Boy's heart, smile as big as Texas
 Published: May 26, 2010 Read more

John Rohde
The Oklahoman
Phone: (405) 475-3099
John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1

UT baseball player Russell Moldenhauer, left, talks with Texas fan
 Kyle Bratcher as Kyle’s mother, Sandy and sister, Lauren look on.

At 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, the best college baseball team in America walked single file into Coach’s Bricktown.

One by one, Texas players pounded fists with 8-year-old Kyle Bratcher.

"Hey, Kyle.”

"Nice to meet you, Kyle.”

"What’s up, bud?”

As each player passed, the magnitude of what was happening became more evident to Kyle. His head slowly lifted. His eyes opened a bit wider. Then came his million-dollar smile.

Kyle loves the Texas Longhorns, which is fine and dandy if you live in Austin. It’s a bit more complicated when you reside in Del City.

Kyle was decked out in UT gear for his Longhorn procession. He was burnt orange from his cap all the way down to the trim at the base of his wheelchair.

When he was 3 years old, Kyle was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He went through some treatments, got rid of the tumor, but it came back.

Given a 3-percent chance of survival, Kyle went through extensive radiation at Children’s Hospital in Denver for the second treatment. His family moved to Colorado for eight months to be by his side. The tumor remains in remission, but a couple of months after his treatment, Kyle had trouble walking.

Now he may never walk again. Kyle suffered a delayed onset of radiation necrosis. His brain swelled and squeezed the motor cortex that controls his muscles.

Kyle’s initial diagnosis was incorrect, and a re-diagnosis didn’t come until after his radiation had been completed. Radiation treatment should have been limited to the area where the tumor was located. Instead, his entire brain and spinal cord received treatment.

Before everything went so terribly wrong, Kyle seemed destined to play sports. He was walking at 8 months. By age 3, he was hitting baseballs and golf balls on the sweet spot nine out of 10 times.

"Then it was all taken away from him in a span of 2-3 weeks,” said mother Sandy Bratcher. "He was walking, and then it was gone.”

Now Kyle plays on a special-needs T-ball team in the Spirit League in Yukon. "He’s not real big on playing defense, but he loves to hit the ball,” Sandy said.

Kyle wears No. 15. When the last player in the Texas procession handed him an autographed baseball, Kyle whispered, "Are you number 15? I wear number 15.”

Designated hitter and academic All-American Russell Moldenhauer, who wears No. 15 for the Longhorns, immediately was summoned. A first-team All-Big 12 selection earlier in the day, Moldenhauer posed for pictures alongside Kyle.

Off to the side, Lauren Bratcher, Kyle’s 7-year-old sister, fought an overwhelming urge to step into the background and flash an upside-down Hook ’em Horns sign.

It was three years ago, the last time Oklahoma beat Texas in football, when Kyle inexplicably became hooked on the Horns. While everybody else in the room was going bonkers for the Sooners, Kyle started cheering for Texas and hasn’t stopped since.

"Texas rules and OU drools,” Kyle told Moldenhauer.

Kyle once shared a stage at Riverwind Casino with country singer Toby Keith, who is a huge OU fan.

The Toby Keith Foundation is the largest contributor to Ally’s House, which was established to help kids with cancer and their families. Keith reached out to former Texas great Roger Clemens, who responded by sending Kyle an autographed pitching rubber, which is framed and hanging in his bedroom.

The physical therapist whom Kyle works with three times a week is a huge UT fan and has supplied various paraphernalia, including a football Kyle keeps tucked under his arm while he’s on the treadmill. Pretending to be on his way into the end zone for the Longhorns helps keep Kyle’s mind off the pain that therapy brings.

Earlier this season, Kyle watched Texas play baseball at OU, where the Longhorns swept the Sooners. Last week, he watched the Longhorns play in the Big 12 softball tournament. Bet good money Kyle will venture to Bricktown Ballpark this week for the Big 12 baseball tournament.

"He loves all Texas sports, Colt McCoy and fishing,” said father Brian Bratcher. "I’ve tried to switch him back (to OU), but it’s not happenin’.”

Kyle just completed second grade at Epperly Heights Elementary in Del City. He socializes with his peers and is mainstreamed in classrooms. A full-time aide accompanies Kyle throughout the day.

"Lots of kids know him, say ‘Hi’ to him,” Sandy said. "He does well in school, it just takes a lot of repetition to help him remember. He’s come a long ways.”

A courageous Kyle was battling a nasty head cold when he met the Longhorns. Didn’t matter, just try to wipe the smile off his face.

Kyle asked his parents if he could play some Wii games when they got home. An array of modified remote controls make it possible for Kyle to enjoy the perks of being a kid.

Before the Bratchers could go home, they had to venture to Yukon, where Kyle had a 7 p.m. T-ball game. As he headed toward the elevator at Coach’s, Kyle softly broke out into song. No kidding. He was a bit embarrassed. The words were muffled and it was hard to make out the lyrics.

My guess was "The Eyes of Texas.”

"It better not be,” his father said.