CLEMSON — This isn’t the first time Clate Schmidt was exposed to cancer at a young age.
Ten years ago, Schmidt lost his grandfather — “My Pop”, he calls him — to lung cancer. It left an emotional mark on the Clemson junior pitcher.
“I’d always been in a cancer ward, and I would see all the kids who were there,” Schmidt said. “I knew helping young kids was something I wanted to help do. I just didn’t expect it to be in this way.”
Schmidt won’t have a choice, upon beginning chemotherapy treatments Wednesday to defeat nodular schlerosis, a treatable form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Testing throughout Schmidt’s junior season resulted last week in the diagnosis that’s more dastardly than deadly.
When Schmidt announced his plight on Twitter, the support poured in. When Schmidt was drafted in the 32nd round Wednesday by the Boston Red Sox — whose own fans are well-versed in backing a cancer-stricken pitcher — his story went viral up and down the Atlantic Coast.
“My pastor said, ‘Your story’s not being written for yourself. It’s being written for other people who are behind you.’ That’s something I’ve taken to heart and been thinking about during this process,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt would have preferred for his care to take place in a children’s hospital — though it didn’t work out with his doctor — in order to help make an impact on kids during his battle and recuperation.
“I can try and inspire people down the road, and let them know it is OK,” he said. “You do need to check yourself because you can find it as young as I am. It can be something serious if you don’t take care of it as soon as possible.”
Schmidt is preparing back home in Acworth, Ga., for an estimated two months of chemo. If all goes well, he’ll rest a week or two before three rigorous weeks of radiation as the home stretch.
“So I’ll go Monday through Friday,” Schmidt said, “to get everything gone forever, hopefully.”
Getting drafted by the Red Sox Wednesday came as a surprise to Schmidt, and a pleasant one at that since he grew up admiring Jon Lester. A three-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion with Boston, Lester announced in September 2006 he contracted anaplastic large cell lymphoma. Lester was 22.
Less than a year later, Lester took the mound again against the Indians in July 2007. Three months after that, Lester won the sweep-clinching Game 4 of the World Series.
That’ll motivate a guy like Schmidt, 21.
“Honestly, it’s like a neck-and-neck comparison. He got diagnosed, he went through his battle, and he came right back out ready to play baseball again,” he said. “You can read about it and it inspires you.”
Funny thing is, Schmidt liked Lester long before they shared a common story.
“I just remember watching how he pitched one time, and it was so impactful because of his mentality on the mound,” Schmidt said. “He didn’t necessarily need to overpower anyone; he just dominated that mound. His presence was extremely well-known to all the players, you could tell, when he was pitching.”
Schmidt isn’t sure if he will take one step closer to joining Lester (now with the Chicago Cubs) in the big leagues by leaving Clemson. His mind was still spinning from a whirlwind Wednesday.
“The past couple of weeks — even the day I was told I had cancer — my thought process was get back as healthy as I can to get back to Clemson for my senior year and help our boys get to Omaha,” Schmidt told The Post and Courier on Wednesday evening. “Be a leader on that team, try to be a weekend starter and make an impact coming back. I know what it takes to win and I want to help the team.”
Either way, cancer won’t end Schmidt’s baseball career.
“I’m going to work out as much as I can, as often as I can, throughout this whole process,” Schmidt said. “It’s going to (stink), but I need to get it done. They said it can help you out through the treatment. I was definitely planning on doing it anyway even if they told me I wasn’t going to be able to.”