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Texas Rangers' Josh Hamilton still feeling effects of tragedy

Outfielder says he 'can't help but think about' events of July 7, when a fan fell to his death while trying to catch a ball thrown by Hamilton. But Rangers have kept their focus, winning 12 straight.

July 19, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton is continuing to come to terms with the death of a fan.
Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton is continuing to come to terms with… (John F. Rhodes / Associated…)

You try to compartmentalize tragedy, tucking it away in the mind's attic, shooing it from your thoughts.

Baseball can help keep it back there. Its clubhouses are enclosed, with lockers to stow all things baseball and not much else.

Its games are almost daily, with each requiring focus throughout.

But neither field nor clubhouse can do a whole lot to help distract Texas Rangers star Josh Hamilton from what happened July 7.

"You can't help but think about it sometimes," Hamilton said before Tuesday's game against the Angels at Angel Stadium.

That day, during a game against Oakland, 39-year-old Shannon Stone, a firefighter and father, fell to his death after reaching over the railing to try to catch a ball Hamilton threw into the stands.

Hamilton said he doesn't think about it all the time, but since it occurred on the field, it comes up during games, such as when a fly ball is hit his way.

But in the midst of heartbreak, he and Rangers have still managed to play great baseball, winning a season-high 12 consecutive games, including a 7-0 victory over the Angels on Tuesday.

Texas Manager Ron Washington said the team has struck a balance: not forgetting what happened, but not losing focus, either.

"The guys did a great job when we were in the clubhouse," he said. "They said their prayers. They did what they had to do.

"But when they walked out of that clubhouse, we had to go perform, and I thought they handled it well, especially Josh."

Hamilton, who is batting .301 with 13 home runs and 53 RBIs, said the players aren't focusing on baseball as an escape, but rather because Washington asked them to in a meeting well before that.

"Right now, we're playing how we're capable of playing," Hamilton said, "and we're capable of playing even better than this."

If anything, designated hitter Michael Young said, Stone's death provided perspective that may have brought them closer.

That night, when the news was delivered in the clubhouse after the game, many players wept, Young said.

"A lot of guys in here are fathers and a lot of guys in here remember spending time with our fathers at baseball games," Young said.

The players talked about their families, their kids and the times they spent together.

Two nights later, Hamilton hit a 459-foot walk-off home run, which Young called a "big emotional release for us."

Young credited Hamilton, who has had struggles with drugs and alcohol, for relying on his Christian faith to help him realize Stone's death was an accident.

But baseball isn't therapy for Hamilton or the team.

"It was a traumatic event," said Hamilton, who, a Rangers spokesman said, intends to meet with the Stone family in the near future.

"It's going to be around for a while."

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/baxterholmes

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