ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Josh Hamilton turned around Friday night and looked up into the left-field stands, where he saw young kids sitting with their parents.
The Texas Rangers' outfielder couldn't help but remember the screams of 6-year-old Cooper Stone after the boy's father tumbled over the railing in that same area the previous game when reaching out to catch a ball tossed their way by Hamilton.
"Red flags go up in your mind because you take things for granted for so long because it doesn't happen," Hamilton said. "Then all of a sudden it happens and then you start thinking more about things."
Hamilton was back on the field at Rangers Ballpark the night after firefighter Shannon Stone's fatal fall. The man fell headfirst about 20 feet onto concrete during the second inning Thursday and died about an hour later.
It was an emotional 24 hours for the Rangers and Hamilton, who can still picture Stone's fall in slow motion.
"You couldn't help but think about it," Hamilton said after the Rangers' 8-5 victory over Oakland on Friday night. "You hope nothing like that happens again."
Hamilton said he is relying on his Christian faith in what is he called a "grieving" time for his family after the tragedy, just as he has during an inspiring comeback from cocaine and alcohol addictions that almost kept him from ever playing in the major leagues.
"It's still an emotional attachment because I was part of what happened, so it's something I have to deal with," Hamilton said. "It's nothing that's going to obviously make me go back to where I was or anything like that. I have a lot of people that are supporting me and calling me and encouraging me."
Rangers manager Ron Washington had offered to give Hamilton the day off Friday, but he wanted to play.
Then in the sixth inning, Hamilton fouled off a pitch that struck a male fan sitting about five rows behind the third-base dugout.
Stadium personnel immediately tended to the fan, who had blood on his face and required stitches. Rangers officials said the fan was treated at the stadium and was OK. They didn't identify him or provide additional details.
Hamilton said the fan had his head down and wasn't looking toward the field.
"I saw it happen. Again," Hamilton said. "There's certain times people can't help getting hit, I understand that. I just wish people would pay a little more attention, not be on the phone, not be turned away."
During Friday night's game, Hamilton found himself holding his breath whenever a ball went into the stands, especially the upper decks.
A night earlier Hamilton responded to the plea from a fan after the outfielder tossed a foul ball to one of the team's ball girls instead of into the crowd.
"I heard somebody say, 'Hey, Hamilton, how about the next one,'" he said.
Hamilton then turned and saw Shannon Stone and his son. The boy's favorite player acknowledged them with a nod.
"The first person I saw was the dad and the boy," Hamilton said. "And it looked like somebody who would love to have a baseball."
A few pitches later, Oakland's Conor Jackson hit a ball that ricocheted foul and into left field. Then like he has done for so many other fans, Hamilton scooped up the ball and tossed it toward Stone.
The firefighter from Brownwood reached out and caught the ball, but with his son watching, the man fell behind the left-field wall. Stone later died from blunt force trauma caused by the fall.
"You never toss a ball thinking somebody's going to die. When you throw a ball, you do it with the best intentions and you just want to make somebody happy to have a present from a ball game," Mets outfielder Angel Pagan said. "Only God knows why that happened and the purpose of it. So you just have to move on, there's nothing you can do because you didn't do it with that purpose. But, of course, you feel for it. The team feels for it and I'm sure Josh is feeling for it."
AP Sports Writer Rick Gano in Chicago; Antonio Gonzalez in San Francisco and AP freelance writer Ken Sins in Arlington contributed to this report.