ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Josh Hamilton could hear 6-year-old Cooper Stone screaming for his dad, who tumbled over an outfield railing and fell 20 feet onto the concrete.
"In my mind, it happened in slow motion," Hamilton said Friday, a day after the fatal accident. "I threw the ball and saw him go for it and saw him just tip right over the edge there. When it happened, it was just disbelief."
Firefighter Shannon Stone, who only minutes earlier had called out to Hamilton for a foul ball, fell headfirst after reaching out to catch one tossed his way by the Texas Rangers outfielder during the second inning. Stone died about an hour later.
"It's just hard for me, hearing that little boy screaming for his daddy. ... That's one of the main things I remember," Hamilton said. "It's definitely on my mind and in my heart. I can't stop from praying enough for them."
Hamilton said he is relying on his Christian faith, just as he has during an inspiring comeback from cocaine and alcohol addictions that almost kept him from ever playing in the major leagues.
The reigning AL MVP, whose major league debut in 2007 came almost eight years after he was drafted as the No. 1 overall pick, was selected by fans to start his fourth consecutive All-Star game next week.
Hamilton started the second game of Texas' series against Oakland on Friday night, and hit a foul ball in the sixth inning that struck a man sitting about five rows behind the third-base dugout. The fan smiled as he held a compress against his forehead and walked away with stadium personnel to get further attention.
Rangers manager Ron Washington offered the slugger the day off, but Hamilton wanted to play.
"You pray, and you just understand that there's nothing that you can do to change it now," Hamilton said. "We live in a fallen world and things you try to do good, try to make people happy or put a little joy in their day, something can go wrong. You just trust God."
After Hamilton picked up another foul ball earlier in the second inning Thursday night and tossed it to a ball girl, he heard someone in the stands call out, "Hey, Hamilton, how about the next one."
When the left fielder turned around, he saw Stone and the boy whose favorite player is Hamilton.
"I just gave him a nod, and I got the next one and threw it in that direction," Hamilton said. "When I glanced up there, the first person I saw was the dad and the boy. And it looked like somebody who would love to have a baseball."
That next one came when Oakland's Conor Jackson hit a ball that ricocheted into the outfield.
Hamilton tossed it up, and Stone tumbled over the railing, landing in an area out of sight from the field behind the 14-foot-high outfield wall.
"Nobody's at fault at all. Nobody should feel responsibility. Not anybody," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said.
"Hopefully Hamilton is fine ... hopefully his teammates and family and everybody help him," Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "It's not his fault. Hopefully we try to forget this day, but it's going to be very tough to forget."
When Hamilton returned to left field after the Rangers batted in the second, he went over to the fence and asked how the man was. Hamilton was told Stone had hurt his arms and his head but was talking and asking about his son.
"Immediately, I thought he was going to be OK," Hamilton said. "But then found after the game that he had passed on. It's just a shock. ... It's just a freak accident, so it's pretty surreal. It brings things into perspective, how quickly lives can change, in a blink of an eye and very unexpectedly."
Hamilton said he planned to reach out to the Stone family.
After getting home Thursday night, Hamilton said his wife and his kids stayed up with him for a while, talking to him and encouraging him.
Although Hamilton still expects to toss balls to fans in the stands, the tragic incident will make him think every time he tosses that ball now.
"You do it so many times, you just don't think about it," he said. "That's what the game's all about. Fans come, they pay to see you play, they want to have a good experience at the ballpark and with player interaction, that's part of the good experience. ... You'll look carefully at where the fans are, how high they are up, what's the railing like. All these things will come into play now."