ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — A pair of World Series logos are painted boldly on the field, with a large Texas “T” between them behind home plate. Ceremonial bunting hangs down from the upper portions of Rangers Ballpark.
There are banners and good-luck charms all over the place — on the dugouts, scoreboard and signs held up by fans — that the Rangers are back in the World Series.
Also in view for fans in upper deck seats: Bright yellow stickers every few feet apart on the railings, warnings and glum reminders of what Nolan Ryan has called “one of the saddest things” he’s ever seen at a baseball game.
The message on those yellow stickers, in all capital black letters: “DO NOT LEAN, SIT ON, OR STAND AGAINST RAIL.”
Similar warnings had long been posted, but became much more numerous and prominent after a tragic fall this summer.
A Texas firefighter died less than an hour after tumbling headfirst over a rail out of the front-row seats in left field during a game July 7. Shannon Stone fell about 20 feet to concrete behind the outfield wall after reaching out to catch a ball tossed his way by All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton.
Hamilton is the favorite player of Stone’s young son, who stood nearby and watched in horror as his father fell.
The playoffs in Texas got off to a touching start when 6-year-old Cooper Stone threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the AL division series opener on Sept. 30.
His catcher was Hamilton, who shared hugs and comforting words with both the boy he had never met and his widowed mother, Jenny. They were accompanied by Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher who is the team’s president and CEO. It was Cooper’s first game at Rangers Ballpark since his father’s death.
“They have turned a difficult return to The Ballpark into a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Cooper,” Jenny Stone said in a statement then.
After the World Series, the Rangers will begin work to make all protective railings along front-row seats off field level the same height of 42 inches. Some rails will be raised as much as a foot.
Team officials immediately began working with ballpark contractors and architects the day after Shannon Stone’s fatal fall to look for ways to ensure safety for fans attending games, and determine what needed to be done.
Stone was the third person to fall out of a seating section at the 17-year-old stadium, but the first fatality.
A woman posing for a photo fell over a rail after the first regular-season game ever at the stadium in 1994. Some rails were raised after that, but there were no changes in 2010 after a man trying to catch a foul ball fell over a second-deck rail behind the Rangers dugout.
Some of the existing rails will be completely replaced, and others will be retrofitted. The project is scheduled to be completed before the 2012 season, which begins April 6 at home.
“We have a concept that we’re comfortable with, that the engineers are comfortable with,” said Rob Matwick, the team’s executive vice president for ballpark operations. “Now it’s just the implementation.”
That will begin after the team’s second consecutive extended postseason filled with sellout crowds exceeding 50,000 fans.
“We just felt like that might create some conditions that wouldn’t necessarily be safe when you start to cut rails and do those kind of things,” Matwick said. “We’re better off to wait until the end of the season when we have full access.”
Game 5 of the World Series was Monday night at Rangers Ballpark. After that, the series switches back to St. Louis for its conclusion.
The rails in the area where Shannon Stone fell are 34 inches, already well above local and international building requirements.
During Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night, a fan sitting in the front row behind the left-field wall and apparently prepared for the possibility of wet weather draped an orange rain slicker over the rail.
That bold color clearly stood out in the same area where Stone had fallen 3½ months earlier.
There are already 42-inch rails at the base of steps that lead to first-row seats, and all along the second deck of seats high above right field in an area known as the Home Run Porch.
Less than two months after Stone’s fatal fall, a man was knocked unconscious after he fell about 21 feet from a stairwell inside Rangers Ballpark while leaving a game.
That Aug. 27 accident was different both in the circumstances and that it happened away from the field.
An Arlington police report said the 24-year-old San Antonio man fell after “sliding down one of the banisters” in a stairwell near the home plate gate. That report said he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.31, nearly four times the legal limit, after being taken to the hospital.
At a Colorado Rockies game in May, a man died after falling 20-30 feet and striking his head on concrete after witnesses said he had been trying to slide down a staircase there. That man had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19, according to an autopsy.
There had been warning signs on the railings inside the seating bowl at the home of the American League champions long before Stone’s fall. But they were mostly white letters on the red rails and primarily situated at the base of steps.
Stone’s fatal fall came during the opener of a four-game series against Oakland right before the All-Star break and then a road trip for Texas. Two days after Stone’s death, Hamilton hit a game-ending homer for the Rangers.
During those 11 days between games at Rangers Ballpark this summer, workers affixed the yellow warnings all over the place while contractors and architects surveyed the facility and began formulating their plans.
Along with the raised rails next season, the Rangers also plan to put a statue outside the home plate gate that depicts Shannon and Cooper Stone at a game. The statue is meant as a tribute to them and all fans.
A memorial fund started by the team on the family’s behalf got a $150,000 boost last month with proceeds from an in-game auction by Fox Sports Southwest, the team’s main broadcaster.
Then before the playoff opener, there was Cooper Stone on the pitcher’s mound at Rangers Ballpark.
Fans stood, many with tears in their eyes, while watching the young boy’s pitch and the hugs he shared with Hamilton.
A few days later, in an e-mail sent out by the team, Jenny Stone thanked the Rangers and fans for their thoughts, prayers and generosity.
“Shannon Stone was a wonderful husband, father, son, brother, uncle, friend, and firefighter. His loss will be felt by us forever,” Jenny Stone wrote. “But, the outpouring of support that we received from each of you has certainly helped carry us through this difficult time and will continue to do so in the months and years ahead.”