Clemson pitcher Clate Schmidt eager to bounce back from lymphoma
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Clate Schmidt felt tired last winter, more tired than a 21-year-old college athlete should be.
The Clemson pitcher wasn't overly concerned, until he discovered a lump on his neck while showering in January. After telling his family, Schmidt underwent several months of testing before the frightening diagnosis was revealed — Schmidt had nodular sclerosis, a form of Hodgkin's lymphoma the junior acknowledged knocked him off stride.
"For the first time in a long time, I broke down," Schmidt said. "I went through a depression, I mean like for 15 or 20 minutes."
After that, Schmidt's well-honed competitive juices kicked in as if he were striding to the mound to face Florida State or Miami in a crucial Atlantic Coast Conference series.
"My whole attitude was to attack the disease," Schmidt said. "You can't give in any day."
So far, Schmidt hasn't.
Since going public with the news in June, Schmidt has gone through four rounds of chemotherapy and on Thursday, announced on Twitter that the treatments were successful — "I'm so happy to be able to tell you guys that I'm cancer free."
Schmidt has three weeks of radiation treatments before heading back to Clemson, where he plans to have a significant impact on the Tigers next season.
"I'm going to be there that first day" for practice, Schmidt said.
Schmidt understands he's got a ways to go. He hasn't thrown a baseball since the Clemson season ended because of the medical port on the right side of his neck to facilitate the chemo. The inactivity is probably the hardest part of the disease, Schmidt said.
Schmidt, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander from Acworth, Georgia, was an all-state pitcher at Allatoona High School and drafted by Detroit in 2012. Schmidt chose college and became a weekend starter his first season in Clemson, then was switched to long reliever and mid-week starter these next two years.
When the lump didn't disappear, the Schmidts began tests — some which did not point to cancer. Schmidt said he had a biopsy in May right before Clemson played at Florida State, which came back inconclusive. Finally, the cancer was uncovered and Schmidt mapped out a game plan to beat it back.
"I was just going to take each step as strongly as I could," he said. "Doctors told us of all the cancers to get, this was the one. This cancer is curable."
Schmidt didn't lack for support. He was backed fully by younger brother, Clarke, who pitches for Clemson rival South Carolina. The day of his first chemo session in June, Schmidt was drafted out of the blue in the 32nd round by the Boston Red Sox, which brought the Schmidt family some welcome joy in a nerve-wracking time.
"It was a complete and utter surprise," said Dwight Schmidt, Clate's father. "You go from your lowest low to your highest high."
Clate Schmidt said the Red Sox told him they had heard of his plight and thought it was the perfect gesture to show they were pulling for him. That wasn't all.
Chicago ace Jon Lester, a cancer survivor himself, learned of Schmidt's disease and invited him to visit when the Cubs were in Atlanta. Lester was a gentleman who told Schmidt all that was ahead for him in returning to baseball, Dwight said.
"It was very special," Dwight Schmidt said.
Dwight said doctors have told the family the treatments have gone very well and Clate is expected to make a full recovery.
Dwight recalled soon after the diagnosis when he and his son ran into a high school friend of Clate who had a similar cancer. Dwight Schmidt recalled her saying her lump was the size of golf ball and after one chemo treatment shrunk to the "size of a pea," he said.
"Clate has the same thing happening," Dwight said. "We're very positive."
Clate Schmidt has already fast-forwarded to September workouts with the baseball team to get back into shape. New Clemson coach Monte Lee could use him, given all three of the Tigers weekend starters in juniors Matthew Crowner, Zack Erwin and Brody Koerner were drafted and left for pro careers.
But Lee pledged to the Schmidt family at a dinner this summer not to rush Clate before he was healthy.
"We're going to be very, very patient with him," Lee said. "We'll proceed forward with him when he's ready to."
If you listen to Clate Schmidt, that's only a very short time away.
He vows he'll pitch on opening day, disease free and focused solely on baseball.
"I have a goal in mind," Schmidt said. "To lead this team to Omaha" in the College World Series.
This article was written by Pete Iacobelli from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.