Clate Schmidt is a right-handed pitcher for the Connecticut Tigers, which is a Class A team in the Detroit Tigers organization. Prior to pro-ball, Clate was a standout weekend starter for Clemson University, which is one of the most prestigious college baseball programs in the country. Prior to Clemson, Clate was an All-American at Allatoona High School in Georgia where he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers for the first time in the 36th round (No. 1,114 overall pick). In addition to baseball, Clate was also a three year letter winner on the Allatoona High School basketball team. During our interview we discuss the benefits of playing multiple sports. Clate was drafted 3-times throughout his career, but no level of success on the mound could have prepared him for the news he received after his junior season at Clemson. During this episode we talk about the decision to pass up a million dollars and a pro-career to attend college.
After feeling a lump on his neck while taking a shower, Clate was diagnosed with nodular sclerosing Hodgkin’s lymphoma in May 2015. Coming from a military family, Clate said that he learned to compartmentalize his emotions, but in our interview he said when he got news of the diagnosis, he couldn't hold back the tears and the thoughts of "why me?" Baseball was always on his mind, so once he was informed the cancer was treatable, he immediately made it his goal to be pitching on opening day in 2016, which was Clate's senior season. During our interview Clate discusses the trials and tribulations of his cancer treatments. Specifically we discuss the moments of discouragement, constantly feeling sick and the necessity of a strong support system.
There were plenty of times when Clate felt bad for himself. A perfectly healthy 21 year old in prime physical condition and a division-one athlete to boot. How could this be happening? Clate and I agree that these are normal thoughts and feelings to have when going through a serious illness like this one or a serious injury. Clate offers up some advice for when these down moments pop up. Specifically he encourages the use of a Sports Psychologist, which we have discussed in great detail in previous episodes of this podcast (48, 49, 50). Throughout the interview, Clate referred to the power of his support system during his recovery. Specifically, his immediate family, which includes his younger brother Clarke who pitches for cross-state rival South Carolina, his teammates and coaches. Everyone seemed to have a good grasp on when to push Clate and when to dial it back. Clate had the opportunity to meet with Chicago Cubs pitcher, Jon Lester who beat a similar cancer back in 2006. Lester warned Clate not to push so hard that he breaks on his comeback, especially because of what his body went through with the chemo treatments. I think this is a great lesson for athletes not matter how severe the injury or illness that they are coming back from. Sometimes you can actually be the root cause of some of your setbacks.
Clate has recently paid his experiences forward to standout University of Pittsburgh running back, James Conner, who was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in December 2015. During our interview Clate discusses the bond they formed through their own adversity. Another area where Clate is paying it forward is through his work with the Rally Foundation where they aim to raise funds for pediatric cancer research.
Through will power, perseverance and a strong support network, both Clate and James achieved their goals of making it back for their first games of the 2016 season.
Some additional topics we cover include the following:
The role faith in God played in Clate's treatments and recovery
Hobbies outside of baseball
What its like having a brother who plays for your team's biggest rival
The importance of prehab for pitchers arm health
Clate's decision to pass up a million dollars and a pro-career to attend college