Cancer survivor Schmidt drafted by Tigers

Cancer survivor Schmidt drafted by Tigers

DETROIT -- The Tigers saw enough in Clate Schmidt to draft him out of high school a few years ago, knowing he was probably headed to college. They kept tracking him at Clemson, and saw enough of him to use a 20th-round pick on him Saturday.

What happened in between, however, doesn't fit on a stat sheet or a scouting report. To write down "toughness" or "tenacity" on a Draft write-up doesn't quite describe what Schmidt endured to realize his dream of professional baseball.

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A year ago at this point, Schmidt was beginning chemotherapy treatments. A lump he had noticed in his neck before his junior season turned out to be Nodular sclerosing Hodgkin's lymphoma. The day of his first treatment, the Red Sox drafted him in the 32nd round, but he had bigger issues than where he'd pitch next. He wondered whether he'd pitch again.

Schmidt underwent chemotherapy for three months. Doctors declared him cancer-free in late July. His love of baseball helped push him through, he said, but his fight to pitch was just starting.

"It was not easy, to say the least," he said. "It was a grind the entire time. But it was a grind I wanted to do."

His brother, Clarke, helped him along the way. He pitches for the rival University of South Carolina Gamecocks, and Clarke skipped summer ball to be with Clate at home in Georgia. They pitched in the same series in March -- Clarke winning the opener, Clate delivering 5 1/3 scoreless innings of one-hit ball the next day. Still, while Clate's result was encouraging, getting back to his old pitching was a little tougher, not to mention building up innings.

"Toward the middle of the year, I made a mechanical change and went back to how I threw in high school," Clate said. "It bumped up my velocity, and then I really started to feel more comfortable."

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Near the end of the regular season, his pitching came together. He fell a couple of outs shy of a complete game against Notre Dame, retiring the first 16 batters. In his next start in the ACC Tournament, he beat highly ranked Louisville with 8 2/3 innings. His fastball, which sat in the low 90s much of the season, topped out at 95 mph.

"My favorite game pitching-wise," he said.

Clate lost to nationally ranked Oklahoma State in the NCAA Regional, but from a pro standpoint, he had already shown enough. His third time through the Draft was familiar, but it was all the more special.

"It's a dream come true," he said. "I know what it means for me and how hard I've worked. Just to be drafted is special. It's unbelievable and a blessing."

That said, Clate doesn't plan to stop here. He was following his brother at South Carolina's NCAA Super Regional Saturday when he found out he was drafted, but he doesn't plan on being a spectator.

"I'm definitely coming to play Minor League ball," he said, "and hopefully be able to pitch in the Majors someday."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.