Jim Knight describes it as "one of the most disgusting sounds" he has ever heard.
The head coach of Central Cabarrus High School's varsity baseball team, Knight was in the dugout last season when starting pitcher Jamey Lee hurled a pitch toward a South Davidson batter. The ball cracked off the bat and rocketed right back toward Lee, hitting the junior starter directly in the face.
"All I remember is the line drive," Knight said. "A lot of guys on the field were wondering if it hit his glove. But I knew, as a former pitcher, that he didn't have time to get his glove up."
Lee went down in a heap. He says he didn't feel anything at first because his entire face went numb.
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"The only thing I thought about was kicking my legs," the pitcher recalled. "When people get hurt (on the field), they normally do something. So kicking my legs was the first thing I thought of."
Vikings second baseman Ryan Watlington says he never saw anything like it.
"I've seen people get hit by line drives before. But just the sound of it ... I'll never forget that."
As Knight sprinted to his pitcher's aide, he noticed the rest of the Vikings infielders.
"Their eyes were the size of Texas," Knight said.
Lee's eye, on the other hand, was badly damaged. Blood filled the normally white eyeball. Lee's broken nose was repositioned to the middle of his cheek, settling beneath the pitcher's eye socket. He was rushed to Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte, where his injuries eventually required nearly five hours of facial reconstructive surgery.
"They put three plates in my face," Lee said.
"(The injury) was gruesome," Knight said. "It was one of those situations where both teams were in shock. The fans were dead quiet. We all just were hoping and praying for the best. My immediate concern when (Lee) got hit was, 'I hope his eye is OK.' You can fix a broken nose, but there are stories about guys in the major leagues who were hit in the eye and it cost them their careers."
It almost cost Lee his, primarily because he was ready to quit playing immediately after the impact.
"On my way to the hospital, I said I'd give up baseball," Lee admits.
"And quite frankly, you wouldn't blame him," Knight said.
But as time went on, Lee's passion for the field, his longing for the camaraderie of his teammates and the overall love of the game led him back to the mound. He and Knight took his rehabilitation slow. They ironed out a training program and mapped his progress.
At the same time, the Vikings still had half a season of baseball to conclude. And because Lee was a versatile player - holding down several positions for the Vikings' squad - his injury affected the team on the field. The pitching rotation was altered, and some players had to move to unfamiliar positions.
In the locker room, however, the injury pulled the team together on an emotional level.
"When he got it, everybody said, 'We have to step up for Jamey. This season is for Jamey,'" Watlington said. "It just seemed like the team got so much closer after that happened."
They took Lee's jersey along with them on road games. By the end of the year, as his rehabilitation progressed, Lee was able to travel with the team, inspiring them further.
"They told me, 'Hey, one of our boys got hurt. We've got to man up and handle our business,'" Knight said. "I was very proud of the way they handled themselves. They all went and saw him right away. They were scared, but they knew they had to step up and handle their business."
Just as Lee handled his. The pitcher, now a senior, returned to the mound twice during preseason exhibitions earlier this month. "Those first few pitches were scary," Lee said. "Every pitch felt like it was going to come back at me. But eventually I settled down, and now I'm fine."
According to Knight, Lee is better than fine. And with the horrific injury behind him, Lee was handed the ball to start Central Cabarrus' season opener on March 5, at home against Sun Valley. The Vikings won 3-0.
"He's our ace," Knight said. "He's the guy we want out there."
Thanks to his courage and steely resolve, Lee will be.