COLUMBIA — The initial crack sent a quiet shock through the crowd.
The muffled screams that followed sent the chills.
“We need help,” the umpire calmly gestured to Hickman pitching coach Dan Devine Jr.
In the dirt lay Jefferson City pinch hitter Bryan Meeker, who moments earlier, had approached the plate trying to help the Jays rally from a three-run deficit.
Like the batter before him, Meeker had been hit by a pitch. But he was not as fortunate as Connor Hager, who had been hit by a soft breaking ball.
Once Hickman closer Curtis Hicks began his motion, it took 10ths of a second for the fastball to leave his hand and connect with the left-side of Meeker’s face, just below the eye. The sound, like the crack of a wooden bat pelting a home run, caused a collective gasp among fans.
Meeker fell to the ground holding his face, then lying in the dirt, tried to muffle his screams.
“I was scared,” Hickman coach Terry Whitney said. “I’m like anybody else. It’s a scary situation all the way around, for the batter and for my pitcher.”
Wild pitches, especially fastballs, can cause serious injury. Last season, Patrick Clegg, a Waynesville player, was struck just below his helmet. He collapsed at the plate and was declared dead two days later at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield.
Meeker’s injury was not fatal, but the fastball may have broken his nose, Jefferson City coach Bryan Ash said.
“When he picked his head up, you saw a pool of blood there, so it obviously scares you,” Ash said. “That’s a frightening thing to have happen.”
Meeker was able to walk off the field holding a blood-stained towel over his nose. The crowd acknowledged Meeker with a standing ovation. Immediately, Meeker's parents took him to a hospital.
By the time the situation calmed, Hicks’ confidence was damaged, Whitney said.
“I’m sure hitting that kid didn’t help,” Whitney said. “Everybody’s human. That’s bound to bother him a little bit.”
With the bases now loaded, Jefferson City had a chance. The next pinch hitter for the Jays was one of Meeker’s best friends, Drew Burnett.
Burnett said he was worried as he settled into the batter's box to face Hicks.
“I was just like, ‘OK, just focus, calm down, it’s just another at bat, stay calm,’” Burnett said. “But (Meeker) was just going through my head the whole time. All I could think was, ‘Man, I hope he’s OK.’”
Burnett took the first pitch and cleared his anxiety, eventually connecting for a run-scoring single into left field.
After losing 17-3 last week to Hickman in Jefferson City, it was the Jays who were slowly rallying back.
Even a strikeout and groundout in the next two at bats did not stop the momentum. Another run crossed the plate on the second out.
A walk by Hicks allowed Jefferson City to tie the game at 5.
“He started out not having full command of his pitches,” Devine Jr. said. “He just was not on his game today.”
Even Hicks admitted he didn't have his best stuff.
“I couldn’t really find the grip on the ball too well,” he said.
Hicks was pulled from the game after the game-tying walk. But when Hickman pitcher Tyler Kemble walked in another run, it was clear the Kewpies had lost control of the game, and the Jays left with a 6-5 win.
Hickman grounded out, flew out and struck out to end the game in its half of the seventh inning.
“He got hit by a pitch, and I hate to say it, but it did spur us a little bit, and we were able to capitalize on that and go ahead and get the win,” Ash said.