ARLINGTON -- Shannon and Cooper Stone were together again outside Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Thursday. They were walking hand-in-hand and talking about the baseball game they had just seen, just as fathers and sons have done for more than a hundred years and will continue to do so as long as Major League Baseball is played.Or any baseball, anytime, anywhere, now or in the future. That is the essence of the bronze statue depicting the late Brownwood, Texas, firefighter and his son that was unveiled outside the home-plate entrance to the Ballpark on Thursday afternoon. "Today is a celebration of spirit, family and a love of the game," club president Nolan Ryan said to a crowd of several hundred people who had gathered to see the dedication of the statue. Among those attending were members of the Stone family, including Cooper, 7; his mother, Jenny; and his grandparents. Members of the Brownwood fire department and the city government also attended, as did Rangers players after their workout on Thursday afternoon. "This represents so many things that are good about baseball," Ryan said after being introduced by Rangers broadcaster Eric Nadel. "Competitiveness, happiness and memories, and I think Shannon embraced what we love about our fans, sharing his passion for the game to Cooper." Shannon Stone died on July 7 last year as the result of injuries sustained when he fell 20 feet from the left-field bleachers into an area behind the out-of-town scoreboard at the Ballpark. He was trying to catch a souvenir ball being tossed to him by left fielder Josh Hamilton. The statue was done by Bruce Greene, a renowned cowboy sculptor with a studio located outside Clifton who has been honored many times for his works that depict the Old West. This one though was about baseball, and what it means to fathers and sons. "Beyond capturing the portrait and relationship of Shannon and Cooper -- that was the priority -- secondary was capturing the relationship of a father and son going to a baseball game and the bonding they had while having a great time," Greene said. "We wanted it to represent what goes on in a stadium among families," Ryan said. "He captured that moment ... he visualized it and how it looked. I couldn't be happier." Shannon Stone grew up a Rangers fan and one of his fondest memories as a child was catching a foul ball off the bat of Buddy Bell at the old Arlington Stadium. On Thursday, Bell attended the ceremony and presented Cooper with an autographed bat, jersey and baseball. Nadel also read a statement from the Stone family thanking the Rangers for honoring Shannon. "We are honored to be here today to unveil what we hope to be a symbol of the purpose of baseball: a game to enjoy with your family and friends. This statue stands for what Shannon believed in: Cooper, his family, having fun, and friends new and old. "There could not have been a more fitting artist to create this symbol. Though we did not know Bruce Greene prior to his beginning this work, his home feels like family now. Our deepest thanks to Mr. Greene for understanding our family and capturing the spirit of Cooper and Shannon and baseball fans everywhere. "We have gained many blessings from our loss. Our lives have been filled with the love and support of strangers across the world, of firefighters, of communities, of organizations like the Rangers and little league baseball teams, of individuals like Nolan Ryan, and, of course, our wonderful family and friends.
"Shannon lived life to its fullest, doing the things that brought him and others joy, and being with the people he loved. We hope this statue reminds people to do just that. Now, as Shannon liked to say, 'Let's play ball, y'all!'"
The sculpture will be on display for fans as they enter the Ballpark on Friday when the Rangers celebrate Opening Day against the White Sox.Fans will notice another change as the Rangers get ready to open their 19th season at the Ballpark. The entire Vandergriff Plaza has been renovated and everything is in place for Opening Day. That includes the Batter's Eye Club atop Greene's Hill in center field and the new concession stands and picnic area behind it. The new visitors' bullpen is in place and so is the individual outfield seats that replace the bleacher-style seating.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.