ARLINGTON, Texas – A man attending a Texas Rangers game with his young son died after falling out of the stands and about 20 feet to the ground while trying to catch a baseball tossed his way Thursday night, the Rangers and Arlington fire officials said.
Arlington Fire Department officials in a statement that another fan nearby tried unsuccessfully to grab the man to keep him from falling. They said the victim's son did not fall.
"We had a very tragic accident tonight and one of our fans lost their life reaching over the rail trying to get a ball," team president Nolan Ryan said. "As an organization, and as our team members and our staff, we're very heavy-hearted about this, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family."
A very somber Ryan didn't get into details about the accident or release the man's name.
Ronnie Hargis was sitting in the stands at Rangers Ballpark next to the victim. The men were talking to each other before the accident.
"He went straight down. I tried to grab him but I couldn't," Hargis said. "I tried to slow him down a little bit."
TV replays showed the man falling head-first and landing behind a 14-foot-high wall supporting a video board for replays and scores. The area where the man fell is out of sight from the field.
It is the second fatal fall at a MLB ballpark this season. In May, a 27-year-old man died after he fell about 20 feet and struck his head on concrete during the seventh inning of a Colorado Rockies game. Witnesses told police that the man had been trying to slide down a staircase railing at Coors Field and lost his balance during a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The accident in Texas occurred in the second inning after Oakland's Conor Jackson hit a foul ball that ricocheted into left field. Josh Hamilton, the reigning AL MVP, retrieved the ball and tossed it into the stands. Replays on Oakland's television broadcast show the man reaching for the ball and apparently catching it before tumbling.
"We spoke to the ballclub, they understood what has happened and we spoke to Josh," Ryan said. "I think as any of us would be, Josh is very distraught over this, as the entire team is."
The Rangers clubhouse was closed to reporters after the game.
Replays on Oakland's television broadcast show the man reaching for the ball and apparently catching it before falling.
The visitor's bullpen at the stadium is in left-center field. Athletics reliever Brad Ziegler was in tears after the game when he found out the man had died.
"They had him on a stretcher. He said, 'Please check on my son. My son was up there by himself.' The people who carried him out reassured him. 'Sir, we'll get your son, we'll make sure he's OK,"' Ziegler said. "He had his arms swinging. He talked and was conscious. We assumed he was okay. But when you find out he's not, it's just tough."
There was an audible gasp in the stands when the man tumbled over the rail, eerily similar to an accident last July when a man fell about 30 feet from the second-deck of seats down the right-field line while trying to catch a foul ball.
Before the Rangers batted in the second, manager Ron Washington spoke briefly with one of the umpires. Michael Young, who was leading off the inning, could be seen talking to A's catcher Kurt Suzuki and pointing toward the area where the previous accident happened.
Former president George W. Bush was sitting in the front row with Ryan near the Rangers when the accident happened. Ryan left moments later while Bush remained in the seats.
Ryan said the former president, who used to be the team's managing general partner and is a frequent visitor to Rangers games, was aware of what was happening.
Hargis' daughter said the victim's head was bleeding badly.
Safawna Dunn, who was sitting behind the victim, said he appeared to have injuries to both arms and was conscious when taken away on a stretcher.
"Josh Hamilton tried to throw (the ball) up to the guy because they were yelling for the ball," Dunn said.
Last July at Rangers Ballpark, a fan fell 30 feet from the second deck of seats at Rangers Ballpark while trying to catch a foul ball. That fan, Tyler Morris, suffered a fractured skull and sprained ankle.
After Morris was hurt last year, he called the incident a "100 percent, total accident that could have happened to anybody." He said he didn't blame the Rangers or the ballpark.
Ryan said it was too early to talk the two accidents and what evaluations the team might make about railings at the stadium.
"Tonight, we're not prepared to speak about anything further than the accident and the tragedy," Ryan said. "That's where I'm going to leave it."