ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers plan to make all the protective railings at their stadium the same height, raising some as much as a foot to make their stadium safer following the death of a fan during a recent game.
Rangers executive vice president Rob Matwick said Tuesday that the team's intention is for all rails in the front of seating sections to be 42 inches throughout Rangers Ballpark.
Architectural and engineering studies are already under way at 17-year-old Rangers Ballpark to determine how to do the work.
Railings around the ballpark now are 30 or 34 inches in most areas, with 42-inch rails already at the base of aisles that lead to the front row. City building requirements are that guardrails must be at least 26-inches high.
"Part of the goal is to not only raise it, but to raise it to the highest standard that exists in the United States at this time, and to do that uniformly on all the front rows around the ballpark," Matwick said.
Shannon Stone, a Brownwood firefighter, died less than an hour after he tumbled headfirst over a rail out of the seats in left field during a game July 7. 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.
Matwick said the railing in the area where Stone fell is 34 inches.
The day after Stone's fatal fall, the Rangers were already in contact with city officials, as well as ballpark contractors and architects, about how to ensure safety for fans attending games played in the American League champion's stadium.
Because it will take time for the rails to be changed, the club is taking some immediate steps to remind fans to be careful.
The most prominent is adding yellow signs on the rails that read, in all capital letters, "DO NOT LEAN, SIT ON, OR STAND AGAINST RAIL." The same warning will be made before each game over the public-address system and on the scoreboards. Plus, stadium workers will more closely monitor the rails.
Security personnel were placed at the base of each aisle in left field the next game after Stone fell. Matwick said the plan is to keep those personnel in place in the immediate future, meaning there will be an extra six of seven workers in that area each game.
The Rangers' next home game is Friday night.
"The Rangers have continually updated us regarding their new safety initiatives and we are fully supportive of their efforts," MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said. "We have encouraged our clubs to review stadium operations over the second half of the season to continue to ensure a safe environment for our fans."
Rangers Ballpark workers on Tuesday were placing the yellow stickers on rails along the front rows. There had already been such warning signs in place, but mostly at the base of aisles. Now there are numerous signs along the rail in each section.
Matwick said the team is hopeful that the architectural and engineering studies will be completed in "probably a few weeks." He said the process has already begun to measure each rail section to verify exactly what is in place.
No work on the railings can be done until the studies are completed. Those will help determine if new railing will be needed or if current railing can be updated at the stadium that opened in 1994.
"We need to check and make sure that the way that the rails are currently anchored can support additional structure on top," Matwick said. "It's just a question of whether it can be done in existing structure or whether it has to be retrofitted. It's not a question of whether or not it can be done, just a question of whether or not we have to retrofit. That could potentially take some more time, we just don't know that yet."
Matwick said the team's goal would be to start the work on the railings "during the season if we absolutely can." He said it was difficult now to determine when that would be or when the work could be completed.
"The safety of our fans is our top priority," Rangers president Nolan Ryan said in a news release. "The initiatives we are announcing today for Rangers Ballpark in Arlington will help to ensure that we meet that priority."
Ryan was released Tuesday from a Houston hospital after being tested for a heart ailment.
A woman posing for a photo fell over a rail following the first regular-season game at the stadium in 1994, and last year a man trying to catch a foul ball fell over a rail on the second deck. Stone's fall came one year and one day after the previous accident.
Some rails were raised following the 1994 fall, but none after the 2010 incident though the team reviewed the railings.