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Pirates CF McCutchen changes approach after Texas tragedy

| Saturday, July 9, 2011

Game-used baseballs at PNC Park just became a little more rare.

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen said he will limit the baseballs he throws into the stands following a fan's death in Texas on Thursday night.

"Sorry, fans," he said. "I'm not going to do that. It's better safe than sorry now."

Shannon Stone, 39, of Brownwood, Texas, died after falling about 20 feet while reaching to catch a baseball tossed into the stands by Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton.

McCutchen frequently tosses souvenir baseballs into the right-center field seats, whether after long-tossing with another outfielder between innings or following a third out in center field.

"We are all guilty of throwing balls into the stands," McCutchen said. "I throw balls in the stands every inning."

On Friday, McCutchen threw the long-toss balls into the Pirates bullpen before the Cubs batted. Before the game, he said he was reluctant to take the chance of throwing a ball into the stands unless it's a short, underhanded toss to a nearby fan.

"If there's a ball caught, and I make the third out and I'm right by the warning track, and I can underhand it to somebody, other than that, I'm just not going to do it," he said.

The outfield walls at PNC Park are six feet tall in left, 10 feet in center and 21 feet in right.

McCutchen said he doesn't put fans in position to reach over the 10-foot wall in right-center field because he always throws the ball a couple rows deep to avoid it dropping back onto the field.

"I never try to throw it in the front," he said. "A lot of people, they don't catch it. It falls, and you have to go get it again. But I was never thinking about somebody falling over. Now you have to think about that."

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle reminded his players yesterday to stay fan-friendly with the souvenir baseballs but to remain conscious of the possible risks after the "unbelievably tragic accident" at Rangers Ballpark.

"I would encourage them if they want to throw a ball away, please do it and throw it underhand and keep it in the lower bowl," Hurdle said.

Max Baker, 52, sitting in Section 139 behind the right-center field wall, understood McCutchen's concerns but said he was willing to take his chances getting a freebie game-used baseball.

"He's been doing it for years," Baker said.

Larry Earnesty, 25, who was sitting in Section 140, said the fans at PNC Park are close enough that McCutchen shouldn't worry.

"I don't think it's much of an issue," he said. "You don't have that big fall."

During Thursday's incident in the Athletics-Rangers game, a foul ball bounced into left field, and Hamilton, last year's AL MVP, flipped it toward the stands. Stone reached over the waist-high railing for the ball and tumbled head-first into the gap between the stands and the back of the 14-foot left-field wall.

Stone, a firefighter attending the game with his 6-year-old son, was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

It was the second fatal fall at an MLB ballpark this year. A 27-year-old man died at a Rockies game in late May while trying to slide down a staircase railing. He fell about 20 feet and struck his head on concrete.

Hurdle witnessed a near-tragic fall at Rangers Ballpark last year when he was the Rangers' hitting coach. A man reaching for a foul ball fell 30 feet from the second level to the first. He suffered a fractured skull and a sprained ankle.

"It just makes you more cautious," McCutchen said. "Instead of not caring as much where you are throwing it, now you really have to think about where you are throwing the ball, if you are going to toss it up there."

Photo Galleries

Pirates vs. Cubs July 8, 2011

Pirates vs. Cubs  July 8, 2011

The Pirates defeated the Chicago Cubs, 7-4, Friday July 8, 2011 at PNC Park.

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