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Yankees’ Clarke Schmidt talks channeling Kobe Bryant

Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt, who is in a spring training battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, takes a timeout for some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby. 

Q: Why was Kobe Bryant so impactful for you? 

A: So much of his mentality and the way he carried himself in his career, that fierceness, that Mamba Mentality, that always being on the attack. Being-where-your-feet-are type mentality. … His “Muse” documentary, I’ve probably seen it 200 times, just being able to just always rewatching it and kind of seeing that mentality and how he went about his day-to-day and the work that he put in is kind of the same way that I carry myself. I want to be great like that and I want to do great things in this game, and I think a lot of that has to do with your mentality and the way you carry yourself, and he was that perfect emulation of that. 

Q: So you have a Mamba Mound Mentality? 

A: Yeah, 100 percent, I would say so. Just kind of that fierceness and that fearlessness just always being on the attack and competing. You saw that with Kobe Bryant, he kind of had that face to him. That’s kind of how the same way I like to carry myself. 

Clarke Schmidt
Clarke Schmidt admired Kobe Bryant as an athlete.

Q: What are your thoughts on Carlos Rodon? 

A: He’s got that bulldog in him, too. That competitive edge, that little bit of that you’re-not-gonna-beat-me-today type attitude. I remember watching him in college. He was one of the guys that I looked up to just ’cause he had that, I was like, “Dang, I want to be just like that,” where hitters just step in the box and you feel like the hitter didn’t have a chance, not just because of his stuff but because the way he carried himself and that presence that he brings on the mound. That’s a presence that we want to bring every single night. … When you step into the Stadium, you want people to fear you, and so that’s kind of how I feel out there, whenever I’m on that mound I want to feel that same way. I want to induce fear, and never back down, so I’m always trying to come-at-your-throat type deal, and that’s how Rodon is. It’s fun to watch. 

Q: Where does that fearlessness come from? 

A: Growing up, I came from a military family. I had a brother [Clate] who’s two years older than me who played college baseball at Clemson, so we [South Carolina] were rivals in college, and we were always just competing at everything we did, whether it was pingpong or whatever it was in the backyard, we were always just going at each other’s throat. That’s kind of just how I was raised, it was always that do-anything-to-win type mentality. Also, that fearlessness kind of leans towards my faith. At the end of the day it’s just a game so I’m out there just trying to compete and have no fear. 

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Q: What drives you? 

A: I’d say the faith is in there, and I also would say just try to be the best version of myself. You learn a lot about yourself through this game, there’s a lot of failure in it, and it’s a tough game at times. I always want to be that type of guy who I feel like people-have-always-doubted me type mentality, whether they have or whether they aren’t. It’s just always want to prove people wrong and always prove myself right. Believing in myself and knowing that I can do something and accomplish these things and these great things is what motivates me. 

Q: You once said: “In five years I would say I see myself being the No. 1 for the New York Yankees.” 

A: If you’re gonna play this game, especially if you’re gonna play it in New York, I think you gotta be confident, and I think you have to trust your abilities and the work that you put in, the preparation. 

Q: Describe pitching in New York. 

A: I’ve always loved pitching with the pressure on and the bright lights and when it matters most, I think those are the moments I kind of live for. It’s like growing up in the backyard, you visualize those moments, whether it’s your playing against your brother or something like that, and it’s always that 3-2 count, World Series, game on the line, and so I’ve always grown up with those type of situations where we would always put pressure on each other and try to come through in those moments. That’s probably the biggest reason I went to South Carolina for college, ’cause I knew it was one of the biggest schools in the SEC at the time, and I knew that was kind of a way to cut my own path and make an impact for myself and kind of put my name on the map and pitching on Friday nights in the SEC, and that’s kind of exactly how I feel about New York. It’s on a grander scale, obviously. It’s one of the biggest organizations in the world. I love being in the Stadium. … Even on the road, it’s like every game that we play, it’s like a home game, we always have the biggest crowds and stuff like that. To be able to travel with so many fans and have so many pressure moments is something that I definitely live for. 

Q: Your Instagram: “Heavily pressured, understressed.” 

A: That’s a little mantra that I always try to live by. 

Q: And: “They’re gonna count you out before they count you in.” 

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A: People don’t really know who you are, and they always have these opinions of you. They try to put these projections on you and say, “You can do this, he’s only good for this,” but then you go out, you do something great, and then those projections change again. So it’s like you can constantly break the mold. Whatever people say about me or however good they think I can be, I always can be better than that. It also works the other way around, you can always break the mold. I never put limitations on myself. I think that I’m capable of doing whatever I think is possible in this game, and so I’ll continue to have that mentality every time I’m out there and just have that confidence and that competitiveness, and I think that drive is what’s gonna keep me in this game hopefully. 

Q: Will the pitch clock help you? 

A: I think so. I’ve always had people tell me I’m so quick when I’m out there because I’m always grabbing the ball and going, and I always kind of have a quick pace of play to the way I pitch, and so I think it only improves it. It kind of encourages you to get back out on the mound and keep going at guys. I think it’s also a way that you can get hitters off balance. There’s ways that you can kind of toy with the clock and get in a hitter’s head. The more and more I’m out there, I notice that these hitters can kind of get uncomfortable if you’re continuing to go at ’em and they don’t have a time to do their routine and stuff, so I do think it’s definitely gonna benefit me. 

Q: Why will your cutter be impactful this year? 

A: It’s gonna be a big pitch to be able to get lefties out and get weaker contact against lefties. And then also, we started to find that metrically it’s such a good pitch, and it’s also gonna play to righties, too. Being able to show like two different fastballs, being able to sneak the ball in on righties and then also throw that cutter up and elevate it or down and away, being able to just show two planes. When a hitter’s thinking the ball is about to sink and next thing you know it just stays up or cuts just a couple of inches, that’s a big difference. When you’re talking about being able to miss barrels and kind of induce that weak contact and also get swing and misses, I think that’s the biggest thing for me. I find myself not getting as uncomfortable when I’m behind in the count, I don’t feel like I have to dot a pitch or execute a pitch because I always feel like I have weapons that I can get a swing and miss on or induce weak contact on now. 

Q: So in your mind, you’re more than a fifth starter? 

A: Yes sir, I believe so, for sure. 

Q: How would you feel if you had to return to the bullpen? 

A: It’s all part of my journey as well, so it’s like I’m not sitting here today saying that’s the only thing I’m settling for. I also think I can make impact in other ways. Last year I was in that kind of bullpen swing man role, I had some success with it, if that’s the role that they want me in again, then I’m gonna do that to the best of my abilities and hopefully do it better than I did last year. 

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Q: What makes Aaron Judge the perfect captain for this team? 

A: All my friends will ask me, or people who don’t know him … you see him on TV and you see these interviews and these things that he’s doing, he’s so engaging and he’s such a kind person, and it almost comes off fake like when you’re watching on TV like, “Is that person really like that?” But then when you meet him in person it’s like he’s like that and more. He’s always pouring himself into the conversation— whether it’s with a staff member, with the ace of the team, it doesn’t matter. If you have a great outing, he’s the first person to come up to me and say, “Great job, your stuff was nasty,” and then if you have a bad one, he’s the first person to come tap you on the butt and say, “Hey, go get ’em next time.” 

Clarke Schmidt throws live batting practice at Yankees spring training on Feb. 21.
Clarke Schmidt throws live batting practice at Yankees spring training on Feb. 21.
Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

Q: Thoughts on Anthony Volpe? 

A: I love him, man. Just getting to know him, I think he’s a great person, he’s got a good head on his shoulders, he’s very genuine. He definitely wants to be great. I definitely see a lot of similarities to myself when I’m watching him, I’m like, “This guy really wants it, he wants to be great.” 

Q: “The Martian,” Jasson Domínguez? 

A: He’s a specimen for sure. When you watch him it’s like this guy’s just putting up crazy exit velo numbers and crazy power numbers. When you watch him you’re like, “Dang, this guy’s crazy athletic.” He just seems like a well-put together baseball player. It’s gonna be fun to watch these guys’ journeys, and I think Yankee fans are gonna be excited for years to come for sure. 

Q: What is the biggest adversity you’ve overcome? 

A: Literally a month before the [2017] draft, I was in the midst of like a career year having the best year of my life my junior year in college, and all these teams would tell me they were gonna take me in the top-10 picks, like top-five picks some teams were talking about, and then a month before the draft I had Tommy John, and when that happens, that was probably the biggest like, “Oh my gosh” moment in my life. As a young kid, you don’t know what’s about to happen. That was like the first time I faced true, true adversity in this game. It probably ended up being the biggest blessing in my life because I ended up falling in the draft, the Yankees ended up taking me in the first round [16th overall]. I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the city, with the fans, with everything about it. I talk to my other friends and people that I came up with with other organizations, and it just means different when you’re wearing the pinstripes and you go out there every night in front of the biggest crowds in the world. Everyone has a Yankee fan in their family. You can’t find any more support than being with the Yankees. 

Q: Your father Dwight flew F-18s and was deployed twice to Afghanistan. 

A: Growing up, there were times where he would be gone for 6-8 months. Obviously you have the utmost respect for military and the sacrifices they make. He’s taught me so much about just discipline in life, and obviously he’s one of my heroes, and to be able to get advice from a guy like that who’s under the utmost of pressure in life, you’re talking about life and death, and we’re talking about baseball. 

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Q: Your brother Clate beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

A: When you talked about adversity, that was the other thing that was like one of the toughest things in my life, watching a family member like that go through something. He was like 21 years old, completely healthy, college athlete, and then out of nowhere you find out he had cancer. That can definitely catch you off guard, and I think it definitely molds you as a family, and as a brother, there’s times where you have to kind of put what you have going on aside and be a brother and try to support him in every way we can. So I think through those times, we grew in our faith and grew in our family, and we got a lot closer. You grow to have a different kind of love when you see a loved one go through something like that. It can definitely change you and mold you. We made it out the other side clean and we’re just thankful for the health and the blessings that we have now. When you’re going through it, it seems like a storm, but once you’re on the other side, it’s like we learned a lot from it. 

Q: If you could face one hitter in MLB history, who would it be? 

A: I grew up in Atlanta, and I grew up a Braves fan, and I always wore No. 10, so I would have to say Chipper Jones. 

Q: If you could pick the brain of any MLB pitcher in history? 

A: Greg Maddux. He had such an art to his pitching. He had so much finesse, and was able to get guys out in so many different ways. 

Clarke Schmidt pitches during the Yankees' spring training game against the Braves on Feb. 26.
Clarke Schmidt pitches during the Yankees’ spring training game against the Braves on Feb. 26.
Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

Q: Favorite New York City things? 

A: Nothing better than a New York City off day, like ripping around on a city bike going to either a museum, getting some nice food or shopping around down in Soho and stuff like that. 

Q: Three dinner guests? 

A: Theo Von [comedian], Kobe Bryant, M.J. [Michael Jordan]. 

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Q: Favorite movie? 

A: “Wedding Crashers.” 

Q: Favorite actor? 

A: Matthew McConaughey. 

Q: Favorite actress? 

A: Rachel McAdams. 

Clarke Schmidt at Yankees spring training.
Clarke Schmidt at Yankees spring training.
Getty Images

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer? 

A: Drake. 

Q: Favorite meal? 

A: My grandmother, my Nan, who is like an absolute Hall of Famer, she travels with us everywhere and all the games and stuff, she makes a Mississippi pot roast that is to die for with mashed potatoes and gravy, it’s absolutely unbelievable. 

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Q: How would you describe your baseball journey? 

A: Had some injuries early on. … It wasn’t like I came in and just lit the league on fire. I had to make some adjustments and figure out kind of how to get guys out and what was best for me, but I always knew that the success was kind of right around the corner, it wasn’t like this was gonna be some foreign thing to me. I knew I was gonna have success in the league, and growing up I always had these aspirations and dreams of being a successful major leaguer and not just kind of coming in the league and being a whim and in and out of the game. I wanted to make an impact on this game. … I don’t think I still have had that breakout moment yet, and I think I do feel like it’s still coming for me, whether that’s starting or relieving or whatever the role may be. … I always think success is right around the corner for me. 

Q: Describe the mindset of this Yankees team. 

A: I think we’re confident, and we have something to prove. It’s like we haven’t conquered that hill of winning a World Series, and that’s like the diamond at the top of the hill. We’re hungry for that. If I had to put one word to it, I’d say hungry.

By: Ny Post



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