Woodbridge, VA -- The crack of the ball hitting Potomac Nationals hitter Brian Peacock in the head reverberated through the stadium as he collapsed to the ground this afternoon. Staff from the Washington Nationals Single A affiliate raced out to him, immediately flashing a sign to the press box to call an ambulance.
The young man who a split second earlier was thinking only of increasing his team's seventh inning 5-3 lead remained motionless. Fans tried to catch their breath. The sound was so loud that you could feel everyone wondering, fearing, that Peacock had been hurt badly.
A few minutes later, Peacock moved his feet. But nothing else. And he would not move again for some time. A seemingly interminable span. Fans nervously looked checked the time on their cell phones wondering what was taking emergency responders so long to arrive. It's a minor league baseball park in the middle of a youth league baseball complex on a busy Sunday. Surely emergency personnel must be in the neighborhood.
The more the clock ticked and the longer the 25-year-old from Palmetto, Florida, remained on his back, the more anxious teammates and fans became.
The Salem Red Sox pitcher that accidentally hit him was just as rattled: Hard-throwing right-hander Michael Lee perched himself on his knees, head down, looking very much like a person praying for a man who was his opponent only a moment ago. Now Peacock was his brother. The game was meaningless. The only thing that mattered to Lee and everyone else in the stadium was the health of the man laying on his back -- his No. 13 jersey covered in red dirt.
A pack of emergency medical technicians finally arrived. They carefully strapped him to a gurney, making sure they made no mistake despite the silent pleas from the crowd imploring them to hurry up. Everyone looked on, hoping that Peacock was not permanently injured ... that what we were all witnessing was not the end of his career and not the end of a fully functional body. Lee certainly was not the only person invoking help from above.
The EMTs placed Peacock on a gurney and lifted him on to a stretcher. Fans strained for a glimpse of his face but could not see it clearly. He was breathing through an oxygen mask. Everyone jumped to their feet, applauding for the young man as if our cheers might somehow give him a boost. "I love you, Brian," a kid called out.
The wounded batter heard the good will, mustering the strength -- and the ability -- to weakly wave his right hand to the crowd. Grown men and women let out tears and sighs of relief.
I wondered how much time would pass before we learned how Peacock is, how his teammates could compose themselves enough to finish the game, and how Lee was going to manage to even reach his catcher's mitt on his next pitches. The second and third questions were answered immediately. Lee was not about to come close to the next batter he faced, leaving a pitch smack in the middle of the plate. The Nationals' hitter, Michael Burgess, smacked a double and drove in two runs to push the lead to 7-3. The intensity of the applause seemed as much for Peacock as for the RBIs.
Somehow, everyone pushed concerns for Peacock aside to get through what was in front of them -- until a medical helicopter landed just behind the stadium during the eighth inning.
I don't know how the players or umpires managed to focus. After a few foul balls sailed over stadium walls toward the helicopter, a fireman came out and asked the umps to stop the game until the chopper could take off. The helicopter promptly cleared stadium air space. The game ended in the top of the ninth on a long fly ball nearly reaching the center field wall.
The home team had won but no one was much in the mood for celebration. Everyone was thinking about the player who was not there. Team officials said they would provide medical updates on the Potomac Nationals' Web site and Twitter account. One also encouraged people to visit the team's Facebook site to leave messages for Brian so he knew people were pulling for him.
I wouldn't be surprised to learn the Red Sox pitcher is reaching out to him, too. Today, everyone is a National.