There was no warning, as far as Clate Schmidt could tell. The news seemingly came out of nowhere, when he was sitting on the porch last week with his family and got a phone call from his doctor, who told him he had nodular sclerosing lymphoma.
“There were really no symptoms indicating that anything was going to happen,” said Schmidt. “The only thing that was there was a swollen lymph node that I thought could be an infection. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t even coughing or sick when they gave me the news.”
Schmidt, a pitcher for Clemson, had just finished his junior season and felt fine. He figured he would wait to see where he would be selected in the Major League Baseball draft, and then spend his summer deciding whether or not he would return for his senior season at Clemson. But that all changed.
“It was definitely a blow, to say the least,” said Schmidt, who is 21. “I’m not a kid that cries, like ever. But that was the first time in a long time that I shed any tears.”
Then a different kind of phone call came, one that would raise Schmidt’s spirits. On Wednesday, just after enduring his first chemotherapy treatment, the Red Sox drafted him in the 32nd round with the 951st pick overall.
“I’m still in shock that I got picked by Boston,” said Schmidt. “I’m so grateful that they drafted me. Immediately after being drafted, all these people from Boston and Red Sox Nation were congratulating me, saying ‘we’re praying for you’ and ‘we’re pulling for you’.”
It was an easy decision for the Sox to make.
“Once we found out about the diagnosis, we as a group kind of put our heads together,” said Mike Rikard, Red Sox director of amateur scouting. “Someone came up with the idea that we could select him and, at the very least, help to put a smile on his face as he’s going through this obviously extremely challenging time in his life.
“I truly feel honored that we were able to hopefully give him a little bright spot in this challenging time.”
Schmidt initially announced his diagnosis on Twitter, and the support came rolling in.
“It’s just another path that God has sent me down that we didn’t plan on,” Schmidt tweeted. “It’s something that they caught early and it’s treatable with chemo and therapy. We are gonna be surrounded by the best of the best.”
The baseball community reached out to him. He heard from schools and teams he had never even faced before, from all over the country, from Maine to Cal State Fullerton. Even the in-state rival, South Carolina, voiced support.
“It’s unreal,” said Schmidt. “As soon as I announced on Twitter, it just blew up. Within two hours, I had around 1,000 messages from people I never met before. It was incredible the support that I got. Not only from Tiger Nation, but even from the Gamecocks.”
Clate’s brother, Clarke, also plays baseball on the collegiate level, but he chose South Carolina. Clarke attended Clate’s first chemo treatment on Wednesday.
Schmidt was coming off a fine season with Clemson. The righthander appeared in 18 games, including six starts. He was 2-3 with a 4.67 ERA in 52 innings. Scouts have had their eye on him from before his days with the Tigers.
At Allatoona High School in Georgia, he listed shortstop as his primary position. In 2011 he attended a showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., and impressed scouts with his fastball, which was clocked as high as 95, and his curveball was in the low 80s. After graduating high school, he was drafted in 2012 by the Detroit Tigers in the 36th round.
“I was supposed to be a higher draft pick, but I told them before the draft even started that I was really planning on going to college and trying to get my degree,” said Schmidt. “I wanted to develop for the next three years, and see what happened.”
The choice to go to Clemson was an easy one.
“A big thing for me was to go into a family atmosphere, and a place that welcomed you with open arms,” said Schmidt. “You walk into the tradition of Clemson. I loved all the coaches. It just felt right to me.”
Now three years later, there is a different priority.
“The main concern is the health issues,” said Schmidt. “I want to get healthy first and foremost.”
For now, he is back home in Georgia facing the biggest fight of his life. He has one treatment every two weeks for chemo, for a total of four treatments. He still has three more treatments to go. After that he has a two-week break. Then a rigorous three-week stretch of radiation, Monday through Friday.
He credits the support of his mother, Renee, and his father, Dwight, a colonel in the United States Marine Corps reserves and a pilot with Delta. Dwight has flown F-18 fighter jets for more than 20 years, including an extended tour in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Schmidt is inspired by former Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, who was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in 2006, but after successful treatment came back to win two World Series with Boston.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of Lester,” said Schmidt. “I still consider him a huge part of the Red Sox. My dad and I talked about it earlier, going over his story and seeing how he bounced back right from the same exact thing that I have. Hopefully, that’s what I’m able to do to.”