BROWNWOOD, Texas (AP) - Front-office executives from the Texas Rangers and firefighters from across Texas were expected to arrive in this town Monday for the funeral of the 39-year-old man who fell to his death trying to catch a souvenir baseball tossed by his son's favorite player.
Shannon Stone was to be remembered at a memorial service Monday at the First United Methodist Church, followed by a procession to the cemetery that was expected to include more than 100 fire trucks.
The family hoped to limit the crowd inside the church to family and friends. Everyone else is being asked to line the 8-mile route from the church to the cemetery.
"We're expecting certainly hundreds, if not thousands, to come out and support this family at this time," Brownwood Mayor Stephen Haynes said.
Haynes spoke Sunday night as he left a visitation of Stone at a funeral home. He said family was trying to celebrate Stone's life, "but it's still difficult to accept, obviously, the nature of the death and the timing of the death and the way that it happened."
Stone took his 6-year-old son, Cooper, to a Rangers game about a three-hour drive away in Arlington on Thursday night. They stopped to buy the boy a new glove on the way, and sat in left field, behind Cooper's favorite player, Josh Hamilton.
Hamilton threw them a foul ball, but the thrill quickly turned tragic. Stone fell headfirst about 20 feet onto concrete, with Cooper watching. Witnesses said Stone was conscious after landing and spoke about Cooper being left alone. Stone was pronounced dead within an hour; an autopsy ruled the cause as blunt force trauma from the fall.
Stone had been with the Brownwood fire department since 1993. He was voted Firefighter of the Year twice by his peers, according to the mayor, and had risen to the rank of lieutenant. He also worked as a paramedic, and as a rescue technician at Texas Motor Speedway. He also was involved in disaster relief following Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and fighting wildfires.
"When you're married to someone that's a first responder ... you always are leery that you're going to get that phone call or your going to have the chaplain come," said Trease Burke, whose husband, Scotty, was a Brownwood police officer for 14 years and is now on the Lake Patrol. "You don't expect it to be a freak accident."
Scotty Burke described Stone as "a firefighter's firefighter." He recalled that during the town's annual, three-day reunion celebration, Stone cooked barbecue for the officers and firefighters working the event.
"He always did it out of his pocket," Burke said. Smiling, he added, "And it was good. I used to work in a barbecue restaurant, so I know good barbecue."
Like many leaving the funeral home, Burke's voice crackled with emotion. Plenty of folks came out holding tissues, with more tears in their eyes.
Media was asked to stay out of the funeral home. Many of those leaving the building declined to be interviewed, citing the family's wishes.
"Brownwood is a tight place," Burke said. "When something like this happens, people come together and they take care of you."
Brownwood is a town of about 20,000 residents in the Hill Country of central Texas, some 150 miles west of the Rangers' stadium in Arlington. Flags across the area have been at half-staff since Friday, with several wreaths and a dozen yellow roses left in his memory at a monument outside the fire department.
"We're a small town," Haynes said. "We're not (small) enough that everyone knows everyone, but we are small enough that everyone is impacted in some way. Everyone has a friend or family member who was close to that family."
Haynes said there already has been discussion of a permanent way of remembering Stone.
"Certainly we're going to do what we can to keep his memory and the honor of what he stands for alive for as long as we can," Haynes said.
Jarratt Lawler grew up with Stone in Cleburne, about 100 miles from Brownwood. They weren't especially close, but renewed acquaintances a year ago at their 20-year high school reunion. Lawler was so moved by Stone's death that he drove 3 1/2 hours from McKinney with his pregnant wife and young daughter just to pay his respects on Sunday because he couldn't make it to the funeral Monday.
"He was an all-around good guy," Lawler said. "He was just always trying to help people, always did the right things."