One of the thrills of being a spectator at a Major League Baseball game is the chance to take home a souvenir. Whether it's a home run or a foul ball, or just a player tossing a ball into the stands for a fan to take home and remember the game - the ball serves as a great game trophy. Unfortunately, people can go too far obtaining a foul ball, and it can end in tragedy.
At Thursday night's Oakland A's -- Texas Rangers game in Arlington, Texas, a heart-breaking incident took place. After a foul ball bounced off the seats down the left field line and into center field, the Rangers' Josh Hamilton picked up the ball and tossed it to a fan in the front row of the center field stands. The fan was calling for the ball, and tossing a souvenir into the stands happens on a nightly basis.
What occurred next was something no one ever wants to see. The fan, 39-year-old firefighter, Shannon Stone, leaned over the railing, which came up to about his waist, and caught the ball. He then fell head-first over the rail onto concrete behind the wall. He would go into full cardiac arrest on the way to hospital and die. To make things more gut-wrenching, his 6-year-old son was standing next to him as he caught the ball and saw the whole thing.
As terrible a situation as it was, it's not the first time it's happened this season. On May 27, a 27-year-old fan fell 20-feet onto concrete at Coors Field during a Colorado Rockies game, and eventually passed away because of injuries sustained.
Catching a foul ball or home run can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, depending on how many MLB games a person attends. But it certainly isn't worth a person's life. Fans simply cannot risk bodily harm, or even death, to catch one of the dozens of baseballs used every night at every park.
Just last year another fan fell at the Rangers' stadium trying to grab a foul ball. Luckily, the fan, who fell 30-feet from the club level, didn't suffer grave injury. He did sustain a fractured skull and sprained ankle but was released from the hospital two days later.
Imagine the guilt that Hamilton, the centerfielder who tossed Stone the ball, must feel. Here he's trying to do a fan-friendly thing, and a terrible accident resulted. It's certainly not Hamilton's fault, but he will undoubtedly blame himself in some way. This is a man who already is plagued by personal demons. Hamilton, a former No. 1 pick, was suspended and out of the league for three years due to drug addiction. He has since turned his life around, became a successful comeback story, and received the game's highest individual honor, the MVP award last year. I hope a tragic accident like this doesn't derail all Hamilton's been able to overcome.
Fans need to know that while catching a foul ball is great, it can't be pursued at all costs. What responsibility does Major League Baseball have in this type of incident? That's difficult to say. Every fan is aware of the dangers of batted balls or bats entering the stands. Certainly more precautions will be made to let fans know that leaning over railings is not allowed or responsible.
This tragedy is one people everywhere hope never repeats itself. Fans need to enjoy the game but be responsible while there. Even if that means letting a foul ball go.