CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Mike Schmidt sat down at a picnic table beyond the left-field wall on a sunny morning at Bright House Field, then scooted over to seek the shade of some palm trees and a light tower.
He wasn’t taking any chances.
The 64-year-old Hall of Famer is recovering from an advanced form of skin cancer that kept him from being a guest instructor with the Philadelphia Phillies in spring training.
Schmidt was in camp Sunday and publicly spoke for the first time about his illness – stage 3 melanoma, and the two operations, radiation and chemotherapy treatments that followed.
“I feel fantastic right now,” he said.
Looking fit and trim, the three-time NL MVP is scheduled for a scan Monday to see how far his recovery has progressed. He still plans to join the Phillies’ television crew to work 13 home Sunday games this season, and to return to camp next year to work with hitters.
“I’m a very lucky man,” he said.
Schmidt felt most fortunate that he got a “crusty little thing” on his hand checked out in August. A dermatologist decided to give him a full examination and found a mole on his back.
A biopsy revealed the melanoma was more serious than stage 1, and Schmidt spent the following months shuttling between Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and his home in Jupiter, Fla.
“I’ve done just about everything I can to destroy the cancer cells in my body,” he said.
Along the way, his voice became raspy, he lost his taste buds and he had trouble concentrating. He said he also had surgery to remove 35 lymph nodes, wound up with an 8-inch scar and endured episodes of chills and restless leg syndrome.
“He’d eat two bites of his meal, then get up and walk around the table,” said his wife, Donna. “He couldn’t sit still.”
Said Schmidt: “It was kind of a rough road.”
“Was it scary? If you sit and ponder the possibilities,” he said.
Schmidt said he is taking depression pills to help aid his recovery, and is feeling fine.
“Hopefully, stay clean,” he said. “Hopefully, no issues.”
The former third baseman said his grandfather had a bout of melanoma that cost him an ear. Schmidt spent much of his life in the sun – not using sunscreen, trying to get tan, as he pointed out.
Now, he takes a different approach.
“I don’t like the sun,” he said. “It’s evil.”
“You get scared of the sun,” he said.
The Phillies had said on Jan. 22 that Schmidt was dealing with an unspecified health issue and wouldn’t be at spring training so he could “remain near his doctors.” He had been in camp the previous 12 years, in uniform working with the team.
Schmidt hit 548 home runs and led the Phillies to their first World Series crown in 1980, when he was the MVP of the six-game win over Kansas City.
The 12-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glover spent his whole career with Philadelphia, starting in 1972 and retiring in May 1989.
Even after his career, he had avoided any major health problems.
“The older you get … you still carry some sort of invincibility,” he said, later adding, “the moral of the story is everybody get checked.”