I was sitting in the third deck behind home plate at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, munching kettle corn and sipping a Diet Dr Pepper in triple-digit heat, when the unthinkable happened the other night.
An Oakland Athletics player hit a foul ball that ricocheted into left field. Rangers All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton picked up the ball and tossed it toward fans in the bleachers behind the out-of-town scoreboard. A man in the front row with his 6-year-old son reached for the ball, leaned a little bit too much over the railing and fell headfirst behind the left-field wall — as the entire crowd, myself included, gasped.
"Anybody hear if he's OK?" I posted on my Facebook page, hoping a friend watching the game on television or listening to it on the radio might have information on the fan's condition.
Play resumed almost immediately, even as ambulance sirens could be heard outside the stadium, but no announcement was made concerning the elephant in the ballpark. Later reports indicated that the fan was conscious and asking about his son as first responders tended to him, but he died on the way to the hospital. Players and fans learned of Shannon Stone's death only after the game ended.
That night, the image of the father trying to grab the ball for his son constantly replaying in my mind, I tossed and turned until I finally dozed off about 3 a.m. Obviously, that's the big story here -- that of a young boy left without a dad and a wife forced to move forward without her husband. But a secondary story -- an important one -- is that of Hamilton, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, and how he will handle his unfortunate role in this tragedy.
Anyone familiar with Hamilton and his demons knows that his Christian faith is a big deal in his life. Tmatt noted in his Sudan post just yesterday that "one of the mantras of GetReligion is that it is impossible to understand how the world really works without taking religion seriously." Well, in Hamilton's case, it's impossible to understand how he works without taking his religion seriously.
Evan Grant, The Dallas Morning News' Rangers beat writer and the main reason I pay $9.99 a month to subscribe to that newspaper's online edition, nailed that detail in -- of all things -- a tweet just a few hours after the fan's death:
There is a lot of concern out there about Josh Hamilton. I believe his faith will truly be an asset for him in dealing with this test.
But did that key angle make it into actual news stories after Hamilton talked to reporters on Friday?
From a GetReligion perspective, here's the money quote that Hamilton gave to reporters who asked if he'd reached out to the victim's family:
"I can't imagine what they're going through right now. ... All I can think about is praying for them and knowing that God has a plan. You don't always know what that plan is when those things happen, but you will."
That quote made it into a few stories, including one by The New York Times. The Associated Press did not include that quote but reported that Hamilton said he was relying on his Christian faith. A Dallas Morning News piece on Hamilton's road to recovery by baseball writer Gerry Fraley ignored the faith angle except to say, near the end, that "Hamilton will keep the Stone family in his prayers." The Fort Worth Star-Telegram quoted Hamilton as saying he "can't stop praying for them," but that's as deep as the religion angle went.
Actually, the best religion details were contained not in a mainstream media report but in the MLB.com story by Rangers writer T.R. Sullivan. Sullivan not only included the full quote on "God has a plan" but reported that the Rangers "held a team prayer meeting" before Friday night's game. And he even included revealing details from manager Ron Washington, not necessarily known for wearing his religion on his sleeve:
Washington said he still expects his team to be ready to play the Athletics, and it took a four-game winning streak into Friday night's game.
"I expect us to continue to play baseball the way we have been playing," Washington said. "We all feel badly over what happened, but nobody has canceled this game. We've got to play. We're not going to use what happened yesterday as an excuse for not playing baseball.
"You get on your knees, say your prayers and live with a power higher than you. We all as individuals do what we can do and move on. You don't forget, but you move on."
In a perfect world, reporters would ask Hamilton to elaborate on what he means when he suggests that "God has a plan" in a situation such as this. Might even be a story there.