ARLINGTON -- For the first time since a tragic ballpark accident took his father's life on July 7, Cooper Stone, 6, returned to Rangers Ballpark on Friday. A sustained ovation greeted Cooper and his mother, Jenny, from a packed house gathered for Game 1 of Texas' American League Division Series against Tampa Bay.

With Rangers president Nolan Ryan accompanying them, Cooper and his mom walked to the mound. Cooper, a lefty, was wearing a personalized team jersey.

Josh Hamilton came off the line of Rangers assembled along the first-base line for the pregame introductions and took a crouch midway between home plate and the mound. After handling young Cooper's ceremonial first pitch, a strike, Hamilton had a few words with him before hugging Mrs. Stone and engaging her in conversation.

Amid the cheering, fans could be seen with tears running down their cheeks. It was an emotional beginning to the postseason for Texas and its fans, still recovering from the trauma of the loss of Shannon Stone.

"We want to once again thank Nolan Ryan and the Texas Rangers," Jenny Stone said in a statement. "They have turned a difficult return to The Ballpark into a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Cooper. Nothing could be more exciting for a boy than throwing out the first pitch to his favorite player. We are glad and grateful to be here to see the Rangers start their march to the World Series."

Stone, 39, fell from a railing in the left-field bleachers while trying to catch a souvenir baseball tossed in his direction by Hamilton at the close of the second inning against the A's.

Stone died of blunt-force trauma as he was being taken to a local hospital within an hour of his estimated 20-foot fall to the concrete below. Cooper was riding in the ambulance, in the front seat, when his father passed away.

Ryan has remained in touch with Shannon's widow, and it was the legendary strikeout artist's pitch that Cooper make his return to the stadium on this special occasion.

"I ... stayed in contact with Jenny to see if she had any needs we might be able to assist with," Ryan said. "She and I ... discussed the fact that Cooper wanted to come to another ballgame, and that Jenny would be up for coming at the appropriate time.

"A couple of weeks ago, I called her with one homestand left and wanted to bounce [the idea] off her to see how she felt about having him throw out the first pitch. She said she was honored.

"We felt it was very appropriate to have him come out. He represents what we think we're about. He's a dyed-in-the-wool Ranger fan, and he's [was] able to throw out the first pitch to his favorite player."

Hamilton, understandably devastated in the aftermath of the accident, "has handled it well," according to Ryan.

"I went to Josh before we decided anything," Ryan said. "We didn't want to put Josh in an awkward situation, and he was comfortable with it."

Hamilton was moved by being asked to participate in the ceremony. It was his first meeting with the Stone family since the tragedy.

"I think it's pretty cool," he said before the game. "I don't know where they are in the grieving process, but Nolan asked if I was OK with it and I said, 'Sure,' if they were. It will be exciting, emotional, everything."

Shannon Stone, a member of the Brownwood (Texas) Fire Department for 19 years, twice was voted Firefighter of the Year by his peers. He reached the rank of lieutenant, and also worked as a paramedic and rescue technician at Texas Motor Speedway. He was also involved in disaster relief following Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, as well as fighting wildfires.

Hamilton's tale of recovery from substance abuse to scaling the heights of his profession is ongoing. Ryan continues to marvel at what the 2010 AL Most Valuable Player has accomplished, personally and professionally.

Hamilton began his professional career in Tampa Bay's organization, a ballyhooed prospect taken first overall in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft. Lapsing into substance abuse, he was out of the game for three years before making a comeback with Cincinnati in 2007. He was dealt to the Rangers a year later, and has taken flight as one of the sport's elite players.

"It's hard for us to comprehend what he's been through to get to where he is today," Ryan said. "If you look at it, that is a tremendous story that he's been able to handle his addiction the way he has. And it starts with the support of his family and [wife] Kate.

"It's been a true success story, what he does on an everyday basis. It truly is a phenomenal story."

The Rangers are embarking on their second consecutive postseason as AL West champions, having reached the World Series last year, before the Giants prevailed.

Ryan liberally praised his team for winning 96 games, while enduring a summer of record heat in Texas.

"It speaks volumes about the character of the ballclub," Ryan said. "I couldn't be prouder of these guys."