But ohmygosh, when the words finally came, they came in a gusher. Two-year-old Lyndon couldn't wait, during all those visits to hospitals in Abilene and Dallas, to turn on The Weather Channel and rattle off the names of every state on the map, becoming so exasperated when the weatherman stood in front of the states he was spouting off that he'd try to shove him out of the way. Couldn't wait, at age five, to tell nurses every obscure factoid about every obscure animal on the planet. He became the prodigy of the pediatric ward, Baby Buddha sitting up in bed with that big belly and those double-jointed limbs crossed in the lotus position—but Buddha never yapped and jested like this.
"Doctor, I don't feel so good," he said once when he was placed in isolation for four days. "Got some new spots on me." The eyes of his physician and six trailing residents widened as Lyndon pulled up his shirt to reveal nine big red, yellow, green and blue blotches. Then all those eyes narrowed and crinkled: sticky lizards!
A blood vessel burst inside him on his fifth birthday, in 2001, and he began vomiting blood. Sheri ran down the hospital hall and screamed, nurses rushed him to the operating room and doctors saved him once more, replacing his entire blood supply three times. A few days later Sheri learned that she and her husband, after having produced a healthy son named Sheldon in 1998, had lost the genetic lottery once more: The baby in her womb had the same disease as Lyndon. "We'll do it all over again," she and Louis told each another. "God has a reason." Eleven days after he was born, Kyndal died.
Lyndon hung on, kidney function vanishing by the day, waiting for two years to see who'd die first: he or some unknown donor with a kidney that would match. A car crash over the Fourth of July weekend in 2003 gave the seven-year-old boy a new left kidney, energy he'd never had before and the chance to finally, after three years of homebound schooling, begin attending classes at the end of second grade—along with a new passion, far bigger than the ones for armadillos or anteaters or Alabama or Arkansas.
It began one day in 2004 when Lyndon played in his first real ball game, a competition pitting organ recipients against Dallas--Fort Worth TV personalities on a field next to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. He hit the field on the run, rounded the bases, slid into home and bolted straight to his father. "Dad!" he cried. "I scored during warmups!" He scored two more times in the game, once sliding between a reporter's legs, and then came the cherry on top, the invitation to enter the stadium and see his first major league game. The drama of the big crowd and the gut-squeezing Rangers-A's game had him on his feet in the ninth inning, exhorting fans to don rally caps and roar, and from that evening onward....
Meet Lyndon Baty, eight-year-old run-amok sports geek. So juiced that he couldn't sleep the nights before big Mavericks games and for two nights afterward. So anguished during playoff games that he'd drop to the floor, shaking, and pull out hair. So focused that he'd keep a running tally of every player's points, rebounds and blocked shots in the notepad in his lap, and ... well, just forget about inserting that IV in his wrist artery until the final buzzer. He could spew MVPs, Rookies of the Year and draft classes for the last decade, tell you what Steve Nash needed to do to improve his game, pull the strings on fantasy teams in basketball and baseball and football, call Colin Cowherd to discuss Cliff Lee on national radio and dial up Dallas's ESPN affiliate to propose the return of Avery Johnson to the Mavs, and still have time to pepper his local radio station's trivia segment so many times—What did Shania Twain major in? "Baseball!" Nope, sorry, Lyndon!"Basketball!" Nope, sorry, Lyndon!—that northern Texans wondered if that one hilarious serial-dialing squirt was why KDRP ended up banning all under-18 phoners. Sports made Lyndon's physical miseries melt away. He'd chain-watch SportsCenter repeats—Never know when there might be an update!—until his saintly ma, cooped up with him at home or in hospital rooms for weeks at a time, became a slack-jawed, pillowcase-embroidering zombie, staring into space. Outraged, Lyndon was, when it came time to compose his team-by-team prognostications on the eve of every MLB, NFL and NBA season, if Mom hadn't rescued from his pants pockets all the scraps of paper on which he'd scribbled every trade over the previous six months. Outraged!
The boy's eyes returned to his robot's reflection in the trophy case. If only he could put a ball cap, a T-shirt and shorts on his avatar, so the bot would look more like a boy. But his dad vetoed the request. "He's paid to shoot down good ideas," says Lyndon.
He peered past his virtual reflection, to what he really wanted from that glass case: a sports trophy. He knew that one collision, one flesh wound—with all that blood-thinner he took to prevent a clot—could kill him ... but Lyndon was dying to play ball.
By age nine, before a backyard audience of billy goats, barn cats and roosters, and over Mom's protests, he'd begun inventing games to play with Sheldon, 2½ years his junior: Super-Slow-Motion Football. Blind Man's Wiffle Ball, following each other's verbal cues—Swing now! Run to your right! Watch out for the tree! Or, in a pinch, Lyndon Versus the Dining Room Chairs, five of them set up as basketball defenders and four others serving as teammates so he could bounce passes off them. Then he upped the ante, finagled his way onto his middle school basketball team as a seventh-grader, his coach getting the referees' and the opposing coaches' approval to sub him in once each game to shoot a pair of free throws and then get him off the court before play resumed. A brilliant ploy, it turned out, because the squirt could hit foul shots better than most of his teammates ... and could lift both teams' fans to their feet with his leaping, whooping celebrations.
Two minutes left in the season finale against the Crowell Wildcats, victory out of reach, Lyndon's father slipped down to the bench and gave the incredulous coach the green light: Put Lyndon in.