Baseball Family: Schmidts Battle Through Cancer, Tommy John

By PETE IACOBELLI, AP Sports Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — As Dwight Schmidt absorbed the news of his younger son’s baseball injury, he couldn’t help but wonder, “Why my boys?”

It wasn’t the first time the Marine colonel was faced with life-altering news about his sons.

Two years ago, Clemson pitcher Clate Schmidt was diagnosed with nodular sclerosing Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Fast forward to this year and Clate’s younger brother Clarke, a South Carolina righty projected as a potential first-round pick in the Major League Baseball draft, learned in the middle of his stellar junior season he tore a ligament in his right elbow. Clarke was facing Tommy John surgery and more than a year of rehabilitation.

“You can’t help but think, ‘Why is this happening?'” said Dwight Schmidt, who is in the Marine reserves. “You try and make sense of it all.”

It’s what the Schmidts have had to do — twice.

Clarke Schmidt, the Gamecocks’ ace, felt some forearm tightness when he left the game at Florida on April 20. He told his family there was nothing to worry about, that some rest and time in the training room would take care of things. But the following Monday, Schmidt was told he had torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. His season as the Gamecocks ace was over and, perhaps, his high draft status compromised.

When Clarke told his father the news, his dad hopped in his car and made the three-hour trip from the Atlanta suburbs of Acworth, Georgia, to South Carolina, talking with his son the whole way. Renee Schmidt joined the call with her husband and son, and before long, Clate joined what was now a Schmidt conference call to find out the news.

All the Schmidts pledged to bring the same level of concern and support to Clarke that Clate got during his cancer treatments.

“I told him it was my time to help him through,” Clate said.

That’s what brothers do.

In 2015, Clarke was Clate’s constant companion through numerous chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Clate was a hard-throwing right-hander for the Tigers when he discovered a lump on his neck while showering. That led to his cancer diagnosis and four rounds of chemotherapy. By the summer, and with freshman South Carolina pitcher Clarke alongside, doctors said Clate was cancer free. With the news, Clate hurried back to Clemson for fall ball workouts with the Tigers.

Clate started 15 games his final year with Clemson , going 8-5 with a 4.83 earned run average. He was drafted last June by the Detroit Tigers in the 20th round. He pitched last season in the New York-Penn League.

The Detroit Tigers wanted to see Schmidt improve command of his fastball, which averages about 91 mph, according to the organization’s roving minor league pitching coordinator, A.J. Sager. The team understands Schmidt’s health ordeal and knows that his strongest, healthiest days are ahead.

“We’re seeing him progress and think that can continue,” Sager said.

Schmidt, 23, is pitching in Florida at Detroit’s extended spring training and is likely headed back to the Connecticut Tigers of the New York-Penn League next month.
Clate believes his brother will bounce back as strong as before — and he’ll do what he can to make sure of that, as Clarke did for him two years ago.

The Schmidts understand Clarke’s injury is not nearly as serious as his brother’s bout with cancer. He had surgery in New York on Wednesday. Dwight Schmidt sent group texts to let everyone know the operation went well, with the surgeon telling the family the operation was among the “best” he’d seen.

But Clarke’s baseball future is still unclear.

For the moment, he’s back on campus as the Gamecocks finish the regular season. Dwight Schmidt said the family wanted to get through surgery and start the path to rehab before worrying too much about what’s next with baseball.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow, but I’m going to have worse things in my life,” Clarke said. “If this is the worst thing that I have for the rest of my life, then I’ll be all right.”

Clarke had a 92-94 mph fastball that he locates well, South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said, which has made him attractive to major league clubs. Clarke, 21, hasn’t ruled out returning to the Gamecocks. Holbrook, though, believes the right-hander’s potential is so good, a major league club will certainly lock him up in next month’s draft.

Clate, pitching in the Tigers organization, is also doing well. His condition was checked three months ago before baseball began.

“All came back clean,” Dwight said.

Clate said he will encourage his younger brother over the phone, the internet and, when possible, in person.

“I’m ready,” Clarke said, “for the long road ahead”

And his family will be ready, too.
___
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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