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Schmidt's thoughts with mom

By JOHN ROMANO, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2002


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- At 9 years old, the boy's take on the world seemed sure. There were hopes and there were dreams. The rest belonged to grown-ups.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- At 9 years old, the boy's take on the world seemed sure. There were hopes and there were dreams. The rest belonged to grown-ups.

So, on the occasion of his first visit to a major-league game at the Kingdome in Seattle, the boy turned to his mother to let her in on this secret. Someday, he said, that's going to be me on the field.

At 29 years old, the man's take on the world seems less sure. There are hopes and there is reality. The rest is simply details.

So, on the occasion of his first World Series start Saturday night, the man stood on the mound and thought of his mother. Someday, someday far too soon, she will no longer be there watching.

Jason Schmidt did not pitch the game of his life in the opener. It just seemed that way to a woman with more faith than time.

You see, his mother, Vicki, was there for Game 1. And that's a victory in itself.

Vicki Schmidt has glioblastoma. It's a clinical term for the tumor that doctors say will soon take a 52-year-old mother's life.

You can argue the cruelty of fate. You can give in to the temptation of pity. Or you can show up on a cool, fall night and forget all your fear.

"This couldn't be a better time, for myself and my family, to get an opportunity to play in the World Series," Jason Schmidt said. "We've been blessed in that manner. We're going to take this time and enjoy it."

With her husband, Ray, Vicki flew down the coast from the family home in Kelso, Wash. She missed him in the National League Championship Series but could not pass up the Series.

"She's excited," Schmidt said. "Obviously."

Schmidt was overwhelming in the NLCS against the Cardinals and just a little shy of that in Game 1 of the Series. He began throwing 97 mph and was up to 98 in the sixth.

Even so, the game was a struggle for Schmidt. From the time Troy Glaus hit a solo home run in the second, Schmidt seemed a pitch away from blowing the lead. The Angels had runners in scoring position five straight innings.

Yet, when he departed with two outs in the sixth, Schmidt handed a 4-3 lead to the Giants bullpen.

Then he walked off the field, without glancing upward. He may not have caught her eye, but he knew she was there.

His mother has always been there. From that first game at the Kingdome to the day he sat next to her in the kitchen and signed his first pro contract.

The years have since flown past and always seemed kind to Schmidt. He married, had a daughter, became an ace, signed a $30-million contract.

His world was a dream until his phone rang one day in March.

It crept up without a lot of warning. A few headaches his mother couldn't shake and dismissed as a sinus infection. Nothing to worry about. Then, days later, Vicki blacked out while driving and crashed her new truck.

An MRI exam revealed a brain tumor, and Vicki immediately was scheduled for surgery. Jason was in Arizona for spring training when he got word.

The feeling, he said, was like being left alone in a small room. Like the rest of the world was moving forward and he was falling behind.

He was there when Vicki came out of surgery, but the news was not good. The tumor was malignant and, worse yet, it had wrapped around her brain. Doctors removed what they could, but said the damage had been done.

Vicki Schmidt was told she had 12-18 months to live.

She has gone through radiation and has endured chemotherapy. The prognosis has not changed, although her health has rallied.

Jason would talk about radical treatments, but Vicki talked about making the most of the next year. Jason would talk about visiting medical experts. Vicki talked about living, and dying, on her own terms.

Giants manager Dusty Baker, just months removed from his own brush with prostate cancer, offered Jason as much comfort as possible. But Baker says words can only do so much. He talks to Schmidt about ignoring the odds. And he talks about miracles.

"Mostly a lot of prayers in the chapel," Baker said, when asked what aid he offered.

Anaheim pitcher Jarrod Washburn was all smiles and shouts in Game 1. He grinned when Barry Bonds took him deep and hollered when he struck him out.

Schmidt will never be described as outgoing. Call it reserved or call it macho, it is not in Schmidt's nature to show his emotions. His face offers no clues to the feelings in his heart.

Vicki Schmidt knows better.

Jason calls her virtually every day on his way home from the ballpark. It is a routine he developed from the time he showed up in Bradenton as an 18-year-old with the Braves' Gulf Coast League team in 1991.

The calls continued after her surgery, but there was a change. It may have seemed minor, but a mother could tell the difference.

For all those years, Vicki would end their conversations by telling her son she loved him. Sometimes Jason would say, "Me too." Other times, he would simply acknowledge her with a quiet, "Hmm, hmm."

These days, Jason Schmidt ends their conversations the same way.

"I love you too."

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