Tyler Bain is a 14-year-old sports fanatic from the East Texas town of Longview with a bright, charismatic voice and a drive to succeed as undying as his love for the Dallas Cowboys.
He’s also spent the past decade confined to a wheelchair, after a blindsided car crash left him with a broken neck, a serious brain injury and a long road of recovery riddled with surgeries, physical therapy and doctor visits.
Through all of the setbacks Bain has endured, including re-learning how to talk and walk, his determination has never wavered.
“I’ve got this one saying from the Bible that you can do all things with Christ’s strength in you, and that really gets me going,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “I want to get to where I can walk with nobody’s help and do everything on my own. No one knows if that will happen, so I just work as hard as I can and, hopefully, one day I can.”
He’s already made monumental strides, crawling, kneeling and playing baseball in the physical therapy sessions he attends three times a week.
He can walk with some assistance from a walker he straps into and with someone to help push when he gets exhausted from willing his legs to perform a task rudimentary to most.
“He was not speaking after the wreck … but now he speaks great,” his mother, Tasha, said. “He takes regular schools classes just like normal kids, and he’s been on the honor roll every year. He’s shown so much progress.”
So why are you reading about Bain’s remarkable story nearly 2,000 miles away from his Cowboys-cluttered bedroom?
Because like anyone who has spent time talking with the engaging, inspiring teenager, Cal Poly second baseman and Big West Field Player of the Year Mark Mathias walked away from his one interaction with Bain a changed person.
“It’s a horrible situation that happened to him,” said Mathias, who has dedicated every game he plays to Tyler, “and whatever I could do to make him feel like he’s a part of the team or to just make him happy was my biggest goal.”
The two met this past summer when Mathias played for the East Texas Pump Jacks of the Texas Collegiate League in Kilgore, a town 15 minutes southwest of the Bain’s Longview home.
Betty Weaver, whose home Mathias lived in for the season, works with Bain’s grandmother and organized for Bain to throw out a first pitch as well as meet Mathias after the game.
Neither remember what the conversation was about — “Baseball, probably,” Bain said — but both will never forget how the moment felt.
“It was heart-warming to know that I could change his day just by taking a picture with him and talking with him,” said Mathias, who hit .278 for the Pump Jacks before blossoming in the leadoff spot with the Mustangs with a conference-best .378 average.
Mathias gave Bain a ball autographed by the entire East Texas squad as well as that night’s roster card before the two posed for a photograph.
Bain said the baseball still sits on his shelf right next to a football signed by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
“I remember (Mathias) playing really great and I really wanted to get an autograph and picture with him,” Bain said. “When I got to shake his hand, I just couldn’t believe it.”
The amazement continued in 2014, when Mathias posted on his Cal Poly bio page that he “dedicates every game he plays to friend Tyler.”
“Every time I step on the field I play for him, because … we take our bodies for granted,” Mathias said. “I’m just grateful for my health and being able to play the game that I love.”
The bio sentence goes on to say Bain was paralyzed in a drunk driving accident. The Bain family said he is not actually paralyzed and neither his dad nor the other driver were under the influence, but the notion still carries tremendous weight.
“It gives me chills just thinking that my son can make that impression on someone,” Tasha Bain said.
Tyler Bain admitted he was in a similar state of shock when he saw the webpage.
“It was so awesome because after we met, I was like, ‘Will he remember me? Is he so caught up in the moment of being a star in college?’ ” he said. “I didn’t know if he would remember who I am, but I sure remember him.”
Mathias has not forgotten, and the Fremont native played every game of Cal Poly’s season in the 14-year-old’s honor.
And what a year it’s been.
The Mustangs are the fifth-ranked team in the country and earned the right to host their first regional by virtue of a 45-10 record. Mathias has played a central role in that success, raising his batting average 32 points to an impressive .410 in Big West games in addition to posting a pair of double-digit hitting streaks.
The 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore earned conference player of the year honors for his efforts, marking the fourth time a Cal Poly player won the award.
“It’s a big achievement,” said Mathias, who was also named a Louisville Slugger All-American, “but I’m just trying to stay humble right now and concentrate on playing good in regionals.”
Bain has kept busy, too, since their meeting in Kilgore.
He became an Internet sensation in the fall, when he took his first public steps in nearly 10 years before his Pine Tree Junior High football team’s final home game.
The team manager in charge of giving the ball to the referee and making pre-game speeches, Bain stunned his teammates by leaving the usual perch of his motorized wheelchair to strap into a walker and walk the width of the field to the team’s huddle.
A video of the event made by the Longview News-Journal has more than 36,000 views on YouTube and made its way onto CNN.
The 1 minute, 30 second clip ends with Bain telling the team “If I can do this, ya’ll can do anything.”
“Before the game is my favorite part, when they all gather around me and I do a little speech to get them all pumped up,” said Bain, who also helps out with basketball, track and every other sport his school offers. “I just do whatever the coaches ask of me.”
Mathias said he’d love to meet with Bain again, and there’s a potential opportunity in the Super Regional if both Cal Poly and TCU advance to the next round.
“That’s awesome if I can meet up with him again,” Bain said with his usual gusto. “I was hoping I’d be able to.”
But even if their paths don’t cross again, the future seems bright for both.
Mathias has at least one more year with the Mustangs to improve his burgeoning professional baseball possibilities.
Bain said he wants to work in sports when he grows up, and that his aptitude in technology has him hoping to one day design sports video games.
He’s already an avid gamer, guiding basketball, baseball and football franchises alike to championship glory with his active fingers and a Playstation 4 controller.
Like anything else Bain does when it comes to sports, his excitement can’t be contained.
“I’m in my room by myself and sometimes when I win, I get so loud that my mom all the way in the kitchen is like, ‘Tyler, are you all right? Are you OK?’ ” he said. “I say, ‘Yeah mom. I just won!’ ”