The relationship between Clemson and South Carolina athletes is often acrimonious.
After Saturday’s baseball game between the two schools at Fluor Field, an embrace between one Tiger and one Gamecock made it clear that their relationship was one full of love.
Following the final out of Clemson’s 5-0 victory, winning pitcher Clate Schmidt congregated along the right-field line with Clarke Schmidt, his brother, who pitched South Carolina to a win in the opening game of the series on Friday. The two men hugged, then stopped to take photographs with a horde of family members who made the trip to watch Clate pitch.
Clate Schmidt and Clarke Schmidt play on opposite sides of what is arguably the most bitter rivalry in college baseball. That didn’t stop Clarke from being by his brother’s side when Clate faced the fight of his life last summer.
Nine months ago, Schmidt could only dream of being back on the mound and pitching the Clemson baseball team to a victory.
On June 1, 2015, two days after the end of his junior season, Schmidt was diagnosed with nodular sclerosing lymphoma — the most common subtype of Hodgkin disease, a form of cancer.
Upon receiving his diagnosis, Schmidt said the first thing that went through his mind — once he knew the disease was treatable and beatable — was whether he would be able to play baseball again.
“As conceited as that sounds, it was something that really meant the most to me, just because baseball is such an important part of my life and it’s kind of defined not only the way I handle daily situations but also my character,” Schmidt said. “It’s going to sound strange, but I actually did approach everything like it was another game or another set of running or another set for lifting.”
Over the next three months, Schmidt underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He was declared cancer-free in late July, but getting back to his old form was not easy.
“Physically, it was extremely demanding,” Schmidt said. “I’m 100 percent back, but there’s always going to be challenges.”
Through what he has described as a difficult road back, Schmidt had unwavering support from his family.
Clate’s father, Dwight Schmidt, said his son went through his cancer fight “with a warrior’s spirit.” The elder Schmidt, who has flown F-18 fighter jets as a colonel in the Marine Corps, said understanding what it took for Clate “to be able to stand up and function” on a daily basis was “incredible.”
“I’ve been to war,” Dwight Schmidt said. “I would go to war 10 times over than him go through this.”
Clarke Schmidt was also there for his brother. While most of his South Carolina teammates participated in summer leagues, Clarke returned home to Acworth, Ga., to provide both moral and physical support for his brother.
“He didn’t go to summer ball, which of course I was angry about but I understood why, and I was completely grateful for that,” Clate said. “Honestly I don’t think that I would have been able to be back here and be pushing as hard as I was without my brother being there.”
Being able to be there for his brother, Clarke said, was “extremely important” to him.
“For me, being there with him, I didn’t have to know what he was going through, I didn’t have to experience that and I will never know like how deep that was and how hard it was for him, but every step of the way, I wanted to be that guy that was there for him,” Clarke said. “I did the best I could to just keep him comforted in times he needed it and just keep him happy and always keep him positive.”
While Clate and Clarke were both close and competitive with one another throughout their childhoods, going through Clate’s battle with cancer together has made their relationship as siblings even stronger, both brothers said.
Dwight Schmidt was a proud parent watching his younger son support his older brother when times got tough.
“You can’t describe it,” Dwight Schmidt said. “There’s not words with which I can describe what the love between the brothers are. It’s impressive.”
Back to Baseball
Ultimately, Clate Schmidt feels that his ability to overcome cancer as quickly as he did stemmed from his determination to toe the rubber for the Tigers once again in his senior season.
“If there was anything else lacking in my mind that I was not going to be here when opening day came or opening weekend, then I don’t think I would be anywhere near where I am today,” Schmidt said. “I like to tell myself I had tunnel vision. My entire goal was to be able to come back here and be able to pitch when the season started.”
Now that Clate is healthy again, the Schmidt brothers have both established themselves as top starting pitchers on their respective teams.
After Clarke Schmidt pitched eight shutout innings to lead the Gamecocks to a win Friday, Clemson needed a win Saturday to keep its chances of winning the series alive. Clate Schmidt responded by delivering one of the best pitching performances of his career.
Schmidt retired 16 Gamecocks batters before allowing a hit. Although the senior right-hander was removed from the game after 5.1 innings of work, in which he struck out six batters while giving up four walks and just the one hit, he led the Tigers to a 5-0 victory.
“That was the best I’ve seen him pitch,” Clemson coach Monte Lee said . “For him to have his best outing in a huge game for us says an awful lot about Clate Schmidt.”
Both pitchers have earned victories in each of their first three starts this season.
Clate and Clarke both believe that their competitiveness with one another has been a key factor to their success as collegiate baseball players.
“We’ve always motivated each other, whether that was in baseball, academics, football, basketball, whatever we were doing,” Clarke said. “God has blessed us with the most amazing talents and we’re extremely thankful for that.”
Dwight Schmidt said his sons “have an indomitable character and spirit that is just incredible to see.”
“They push each other to be the best, doing everything they can,” Dwight Schmidt said.
Most importantly, Schmidt’s cancer is in remission. The 22-year-old, who has to have his blood tested every three months for his first year post-treatment and every six months after that, returned home last week for his six-month checkup, where no signs of cancer were found.