Texas Rangers to raise railing heights

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Rangers will raise the height of the front row rails at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to 42 inches, an increase of as much as 12 inches in certain areas of the park, as part of new safety initiatives at the facility following the death of fan Shannon Stone.

Stone, a 39-year-old firefighter from Brownwood, fell over the railing in left-center as he attempted to catch a ball thrown by outfielder Josh Hamilton. The drop was about 20 feet and Stone died from injuries sustained in the fall.

The rails located at the bottom of the aisles in much of the park are already at 42 inches. But the rails in front of some seats in the park drop to 34 or 30 inches so fans' views are not obstructed. Now, all of those rails will go to 42 inches. The rail that Stone fell over was 34 inches.

"The safety of our fans is our top priority," said Rangers CEO and president Nolan Ryan, who was released from the hospital Tuesday after undergoing tests that determined there were no new developments in the recurrence of a previous heart condition. "The initiatives we are announcing today for Rangers Ballpark in Arlington will help to ensure that we meet that priority."

The club said it is still in the design and engineering phase of the rails and once that's completed and the inspectors have given approval, they'll begin construction. That could happen while the team is on the road during parts of this season or once the season is completed.

"We want to do it as soon as possible," said Rob Matwick, Rangers' executive vice president of ballpark and event operations. "But it's got to be safe. It's got to be designed correctly and engineered correctly."

Matwick said that even though the shortest rails exceeded international and local code by four inches (shortest rails are 30 inches and code is 26, according to the club), the team decided it had to sacrifice partially blocking some sight lines to be sure the front row seating was as safe as possible.

As for the gap between the left-field rail and the manual scoreboard, where Stone fell on July 7, Matwick said the club might look at some other measures, but wants to get the rails done first. The tarp that was put up for the remainder of the A's series won't be there when the club hosts Toronto on Friday.

"The rail is the first measure of prevention," Matwick said. "We're trying to prevent falls. That's why we feel like the 42 elevation is a solid solution. We might look at another solution, but we're looking at the rails. Whatever we do, it can't just be a stop-gap measure. It has to stand the weight of a person falling. We don't want to put a temporary solution down there that can't guarantee a person's safety."

So while the club works to get the railings extended and discuss other measures, they'll keep the security and ballpark personnel vigilant about warning fans in those front rows.

The team has added signage and new rules for fans. A yellow sign reading: "Do not lean, sit on, or stand against rail" will be installed (in all caps) at the base of the aisles and in the front of the seating area in all upper seating areas.

The club will have a pregame announcement reminding fans of that information over the Public Address system and the scoreboards as well.

Security personnel were also 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 or seven workers in that area each game.

"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.

"It's good to know the organization really cares about the fans and the safety of the fans and are willing to make improvements even though they're not necessary, just as far as standards," Hamilton said Tuesday in Anaheim, where the Rangers are facing the Los Angeles Angels.

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.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.