Friday, July 8, 2011

What If?

Police and fans look down to where Shannon Stone fell to his death. -- AP photo
What If?
By Aaron M. Smith

What if?

What if Oakland's Conor Jackson checked his swing? What if Jackson didn't swing at all? What if the foul ball did not ricochet into the outfield? What if Texas's Josh Hamilton hadn't heard Shannon Stone calling for the ball? What if Hamilton threw the ball just a few feet further?

What if?

If any of those things happened, a young son would not have had to watch his dad die after falling 20 feet to a concrete floor at what should have been the awesome experience of a father-and-son night at the ball park.

It sickens to me see the replay of Stone reaching over the railing for the ball, just in front of his son. He toppled over the railing head first and disappeared behind the wall leaving only the imagination to visualize the horror that happened next.

Witnesses said Stone had head and arm injuries but was conscious, repeatedly asking about his son who then was by himself. Fans near the son brought him down the stairs to be with his dad. Everyone thought he would be OK. But on the way to the hospital in the ambulance, Stone tragically went into cardiac arrest and passed away leaving a young boy without a dad.

As soon as I saw this clip and read the story, my mind was a tangle of "what ifs." I tend to do that when I hear of tragedy. The smallest of changes could affect the tragic outcome. So many little things or even things that seemingly are unrelated -- what if the Reds never traded Hamilton to the Rangers -- can keep tragedy from happening. I don't know why I do this; it's not going to change a thing. It only makes me sicker to think about the tiny things that could have prevented a horrible outcome.

While reading this tragic story, I also noticed something that I also see every time there is a tragedy. Perusing the "comments" section of the story, I found a litany of comments blaming this person or that person. Some wanted to blame Hamilton for being careless with his toss of the baseball. Some wanted to blame the Rangers organization for not having preventative measures set up to prevent a fall like this. Others even sadly wanted to blame the dad for thinking more about the baseball than his or his son's protection. I think it's obvious after hearing about the man that Stone was, nothing could be further from the truth. Stone was a class act and a model for fathers everywhere. So why does there always need to be blame passed around?

I read a blog written by a mother who lost a child and she noticed the same thing. She writes:
"Why, when something tragic happens, do we automatically think there has to be a culprit, there has to be a well-defined reason, there has to be something that could have been done that would have avoided the end result?
"The answer isn’t pretty…
"Because we’d like to think it couldn’t happen to us.
"We would have seen something was wrong. We would have noticed the one thing that could save our child’s life. We would never, ever have missed the obvious.

"We are not in control of every minute detail of our lives. We can’t account for every circumstance, every decision made by someone else, every path God will lead us down.
"Tragedy happens. It doesn’t always have a direct cause that we humans can easily pinpoint.  We’d do better to offer compassion to those reeling in the aftermath than heap salt on the wounds by playing the blame game."
I realize I'm a little all over the place with this post, but I just can't seem to get the story out of my mind. I'm thinking of the poor boy who now will associate his dad's death with our national pastime -- a natural bond between father and son now serves as the ultimate separation. My mind goes to the "what if" scenario, but that doesn't help. Looking to blame someone here doesn't help either.

Like the mother said in her blog, "tragedy happens." It happens in the blink of an eye.

No "what if" can change that.


  1. A recent comment came into Hardball Talk from a friend of Shannon Stone, the father who died at the Ranger game. This is worth adding:

    "I am an old friend and classmate of Shannon. I have known the man for 35 years, ever since we were in Kindergarten and elementary school together, running in the same group of friends. My fellow Cleburne High Class of 1990 classmates and I are all devastated by the loss of our brother.

    "Shannon was a funny and well liked member of our class. He had a fun-loving way about him. The way he walked and talked, his outlook, everything about him made it impossible to not like him.

    "The tragedy touches so many people, be it those who knew and know him and those who did not. The players at the game, the fans at the game, especially in that section, surely are feeling the same grief we are today.

    "Our prayers go out to the Stone family. We love and will miss him terribly but we know he is home and we look forward to seeing him again."

  2. Statement from Jenny Stone, the wife of Shannon Stone and mother of Cooper:

    "Monday we said goodbye to a wonderful man. Shannon was truly a great husband, father, son, brother, uncle, firefighter, and friend. While we have been overwhelmed with sadness by his death, we have also been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and sympathy that we have received, from complete strangers as far away as New Zealand, to the former president of the United States of America, to our closest friends and family. While we will never forget that horrible night, we also will never forget the gentleman from Hawley, Texas, who protected Cooper that evening and came to pay his respects on Sunday. We will never forget the new friend Shannon, Cooper and I had just made on our recent camping trip to Destin, Florida, who traveled from Louisiana to pay his respects. We will never forget all the firefighters and policemen and women and hospital staff who were there that night. We are incredibly thankful for the outpouring of love from Shannon’s brother firefighters, the City of Brownwood, First United Methodist Church, Texas Motor Speedway, firefighters from all over Texas, and from everyone in our community who brought food, stopped by, stood on the roadside and blessed us with prayers. And, of course, we have been supported and held up by our family and friends, who have stayed by our side for the last four days. Thank you is not enough, but we are truly thankful.

    "We are also thankful for Nolan Ryan, Josh Hamilton, the Texas Rangers, the Rangers fans, and all baseball fans, which have showed such concern and compassion. While I was certainly surprised to hear Nolan Ryan on my phone on Friday morning, I was not surprised that he would act just like we all see him, as a true Texas gentleman. Josh Hamilton remains Cooper’s favorite baseball player, the Texas Rangers will always be our team, and baseball will always be our favorite game.

    "Again, we are so very thankful, appreciative, and overwhelmed by all of the support we have received. Shannon loved going to watch the Rangers and he loved Cooper. And, at the very end, he lived life to its fullest, doing something he loved."