Can’t imagine a more gruesome, embarrassing Opening Day for your Texas Rangers. And, oh yeah, they also lost on the field.
Much uglier than the Rangers’ porous pitching in their 14-10 loss to the Phillies were the lazy, irreverent fans who decided to use a tombstone as a trash can. Shame on you. Opening Day is about optimism, not dishonoring and desecrating the dead.
Perhaps a little reminder is in order. Because the statue upon which you discarded your warm, back-wash filled beer cans and bottles memorializes a man named Shannon Stone.
You do remember him, right?
Shannon Stone was a dad. A husband. A firefighter. And a Rangers’ fan who yesterday afternoon was likely rolling over in his grave, uncomfortably amidst the rubbish left on his statue outside Globe Life Park.
Long before the baseball that was the catalyst to his accidental death at Rangers Ballpark in 2011, Stone grabbed another souvenir in Arlington.
This one – a foul ball caught in 1983 off the bat of his favorite player, Buddy Bell – perished when his parents' house in Johnson County burned to the ground. On Oct. 16, 2010, while Stone and his son Cooper attended the Rangers’ victory over the New York Yankees in Game 2 of the ALCS, the house of Suzann and Al Stone caught fire because of an electrical short in a garage refrigerator.
By the time Stone, a Brownwood firefighter, got the news and hurried to the house between Cleburne and Joshua, flames had engulfed the property and destroyed his cherished ball but, fortunately, spared his parents.
“He was so sad,” Stone's mother, Suzann, told me back in 2011. “That ball meant a lot to him. Buddy Bell was his favorite player. Just like Josh Hamilton is Cooper's favorite.”
With help from Stone, off-duty firemen and their local church, the Stones' home was rebuilt. But after what happened at Rangers Ballpark on July 7, 2011 no amount of love, faith or fellowship can ever fully repair Stone's family. In an attempt to snag a ball from his 6-year-old son's baseball hero – like his father, Al, had done for him 28 years ago – Stone leaned over a railing in left field during the Rangers-A's game, caught the ball flipped toward him by Hamilton, lost his balance in the process and tumbled headfirst 20 feet to his death.
“We're a close family, and we have faith that God has a purpose for all of us in this,” Suzann said. “But right now it's hard for us to find the point. Some days it's just real hard.”
Losing Dad is never easy, especially when he was only 39 and in the prime of a life dedicated to serving others.
Stone was raised in Cleburne, one of the special souls who knew early on he only wanted to do two things in life: Catch fly balls and put out fires. He was one of the good ones, a boy who kept out of trouble and grew into a man who kept everyone else safe.
Said Stone's mother, “If he wasn't my son I'd want him to be my friend. He will always be my hero.”
The healing is still slow, and eternally incomplete. Stone's wife, Jenny, eventually returned to her job as a diagnostician for the Brownwood ISD. Cooper, a lefty like his idol, Hamilton, went back to playing baseball and eventually tugged on his mom's sleeves to return to a Rangers game and threw out the first pitch – with Hamilton catching – two months after his Dad’s death.
Kids are resilient, and Stone's firemen buddies, nicknamed "Happy," "Woody," "Thug" and "Weasel," have assured the family that Cooper will never eat lunch alone at school. Nonetheless, you doubt if any son could ever truly get over watching his father fall to his death.
“I don't know if any of us will ever be able to sort it out,” Suzann said.
In the wake of the accident there was an outpouring of support for Stone, attempting to help the family put one foot in front of the other. The Rangers immediately established a Shannon Stone Memorial Fund. Brownwood firefighters did the same. In Dallas, noted Rangers blogger Jamey Newberg, Dallas Morning News baseball beat writer Evan Grant and radio station KRLD-FM 105.3 The Fan held fundraising events. Broadcaster Erin Andrews contributed to Stone's fund, auctioning an MLB All-Star Game jersey signed by The Jonas Brothers and Joe Torre.
“The kindness and generosity have been amazing,” Suzann said at the time. “Little notes from people we don't even know in New York and Minnesota. I have crying spells quite often. I broke down in Hobby Lobby the other day buying a frame for a picture of Shannon. But we're a blessed family. All this support is lifting us back up.”
Whether divine intervention or merely a good father making a bad decision in a moment of overzealous carelessness, Stone's fatal fall is part of a permanent legacy on display at the home-plate entrance. In April 2012 then-team president Nolan Ryan unveiled the life-sized, bronze statue of Shannon and Cooper in the spirit of "Rangers Fans."
“I absolutely love it,” Suzann said. “What better depicts the essence of baseball than Daddy and his little boy at a game?”
Added Stone’s father, Al, “For his whole life Cooper is going to be proud of it.”
Until yesterday, when self-centered fans decided it was important to sully a statue than to be forced to put their beer can in an actual garbage can. Imagine the family – imagine Cooper – seeing the memorial turned into a dumpster.
To me it’s one of the lowest, most disgusting points in Rangers’ history.
But you know what they say: One fan’s treasure, is another fan’s trash.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently writes a sports/guy stuff blog at DFWSportatorium.com and lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.