Clate and Clarke Schmidt grew up as brothers and best friends.
Separated by two years, they spent much of their childhood together on the baseball diamond. The two would critique each other’s abilities, helping one another to become the best baseball players they could be.
“That’s what I think really made a difference for us is that when we critiqued we were good enough to where it actually meant something,” Clate said. “It wasn’t just something where we were fooling around. We would push ourselves to the point where we made ourselves so much better because of it, because we challenged each other.”
Years of hard work paid off as the brothers grew older. Clate was drafted by the Detroit Tigers out of Allatoona High in Georgia but opted to attend Clemson. He tried to recruit his younger brother to join him, but Clarke decided on South Carolina.
Clarke choosing to play for the Gamecocks did not change the relationship between the two. After growing up competing against each other in different sports, it simply allowed for the competitive juices to continue to flow.
“We always had the brotherly fights, but who doesn’t?” Clate said. “As a brother, I couldn’t ask for any better. We’ve been close, really since he was born. I really could not picture my life without him.”
It was hard to imagine that the two could get any closer, but that changed this past May.
Clate, at 21 years old, was diagnosed with nodular sclerosing, a form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Clarke was devastated.
“When you’re a 19-year-old kid, you don’t expect your best friend and your brother to find out he has cancer,” Clarke said. “It blew me back. I didn’t really know how to take it at first, but all I could do is support him in every way possible.”
The support started immediately, from the time that Clate got the news.
“When I found out, he was out there on the porch with me. He saw me start to break down and then he broke down,” Clate recalled. “There weren’t any words that needed to be said. He just gave me a look that said ‘You’re going to be all right, but I’m going to be with you the entire time.’ ”
Clarke was scheduled to play in the Cape Cod League this past summer but refused to be away from his brother during the trying time. Clate, who played at Cape Cod following his freshman year, had encouraged his younger brother to do the same.
“I felt so horrible, because I was the reason that he wasn’t going to be able to experience it,” Clate said. “But I mean, I knew that he was going to be a huge, huge support system for me going through this thing, and honestly, without him, I don’t think I would have been able to do it. Actually, I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
Clate began chemotherapy June 10 and was drafted by the Red Sox the same day. He said the first treatment “wasn’t too bad,” but each one progressively got worse.
The second week, he began getting tired and really sick easily. Shortly thereafter, his hair began falling out.
“Stuff like that was really rough,” he said. “The radiation itself, like after the chemo, it just wore me down. It really does wear on you. I would wake up in the morning after like 12 hours of sleep and I still would feel tired. It’s one of those battles where you’ve got to force yourself to get up and stay up. It was a rough journey.”
Clarke, as he had promised, was there every step of the way. He attended every chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatment.
“This summer, he was just there all the time,” Clate said. “To me, it was just someone that I could talk to about stuff that was around my age that was my best friend that I didn’t need to necessarily talk to my parents about.”
Clarke said he couldn’t imagine playing in the Cape Cod League or being anywhere other than by his brother’s side as he battled with cancer.
“I wanted to be there as much as anybody else was going to be there for him,” he said. “It really makes me value baseball a lot more, value brotherhood, value anything I have in life. We’re so blessed, and at any moment in time something can be taken away from you.”
Clate said that in addition to feeling support from his brother, family, friends and teammates, he received well wishes from teams and people throughout the country, including Clemson’s biggest rival.
“The Gamecock Nation, I really cannot thank them enough,” he said. “I know it’s a rivalry when it comes to the games, but there are a lot more things that are bigger than sports. That’s something that I really, really, really could never thank them enough for is their appreciation and the prayers that they have given me.”
Monte Lee was hired as Clemson’s coach about two weeks after Clate was diagnosed with cancer, and since Clate could not be in Clemson, Lee came to him.
“He brought his family to just come have dinner with us and meet my family, because I couldn’t make it up to Clemson,” Clate said. “That meant so much to me and the family just to be able to meet him and still feel like we were part of the team even though I couldn’t be here. He was incredible throughout the whole process.”
After a tough battle, Clate found out in late July that he was cancer free and began working to get back on the baseball field. He threw to live hitters for the first time Sept. 21, reaching a milestone that he had been aiming for since being cleared to return to baseball activities.
He said stamina is an issue, but overall he feels good. Clarke could not be more excited for his brother’s progress.
“The situation was tough,” he said. “But now that it’s behind us, we’re happy to have gone through the experience because we know that we learned so much from it.”
Clate is eager to get back on the field and compete against his brother, like the two have done since they were kids.
“When we step between the lines, he is not my brother, he’s the guy that’s on the opposite team that’s my rival, but once that game’s over, we’re right back to family,” Clate said. “We’ll always do our jabs and we’ll always do that, but I mean we’re competitors. We want to win for our teams. When the game starts, that’s when we turn into different people. I wouldn’t want it any other way, because it wouldn’t be fun if it was any other way. It’s just a healthy rivalry is what it is.”