By now you’ve probably heard about the terrible tragedy that occurred at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington earlier tonight. A foul ball off the bat of Conor Jackson went down the LF line and caromed into fair territory, where Josh Hamilton picked it up and tossed it to some fans in the outfield seats. Shannon Stone, a firefighter from Brownwood, TX, leaned over a railing for the ball and fell some 20 feet to the ground below. He later died of his injuries. This is the third incident of a fan falling over a railing at Rangers Ballpark, this one being the first death. He had brought his 6-year-old son to the game.
Any adult who sits in an elevated front row should be aware of the potential for danger, especially if you’re fixated on catching a ball. The LF seats in Arlington are a unique situation in that there is a sizable gap between the front row and the out-of-town scoreboard, which forms the LF wall. I have no idea why the gap is there. Historically, the scoreboard was manually operated, which would require some space for the crew to maneuver. After the scoreboards were changed to LED panels two years ago, the space in back of the scoreboard seemed to be unnecessary, except for perhaps ventilation purposes. At the Coliseum, there is no such gap between the scoreboard and the seats. Instead, there’s a three-foot-wide yellow ledge which provides a roof for the crew, and then a wall which extends up to the bleacher seating. Every other ballpark with a scoreboard built into the wall has fans either directly above the scoreboard, or separated by either a net or something solid. The Giants even put in an extra rail at AT&T Park’s bleachers to keep fans from reaching over the fence and potentially interfering with a ball in play.
Why the Rangers didn’t install either a net or a chain link “cage” is beyond me. Installation wouldn’t have cost much and would not have compromised ventilation for the scoreboard. It’s not like they haven’t had such a system at Wrigley for decades.
In Arlington, the prior incidents caused the Rangers to raise the railings from 30.5 inches to a height of 46 inches, or so they said. In foul territory this is difficult to pull off, because every fan is looking down into the action on the field (20-35 degrees). Higher railings could compromise views. A closer look shows that the raised railings only occur along the aisles, not the seating sections. That in itself is tragic given the location of this incident. Outfield seats have a much less severe angle of the action, especially the pitcher-batter confrontation. It would’ve been easy to make 36 inch or higher railings uniform across the board, which might have been high enough to keep the man from falling. To understand how unsafe it is, take a look at this picture provided by the AP to ESPN. Notice on the far right how the railing is lower than the fan’s butt? That’s not good.
It’s simple. Either put up a net or raise the railings to a height that might actually protect people instead of merely providing a footrest. Or do both. It’s only your fans’ safety at stake, Nolan. For now, all anyone can do is send their sympathies to the family of the fallen firefighter. Still, it’s hard to get over the fact that this incident was thoroughly avoidable.
P.S. – The tour I took last summer of Rangers Ballpark didn’t allow us anywhere near the field because it was a game day.