The Coastal Carolina baseball program is dealing with some tough news as former ace pitcher Ben Smith has been diagnosed with Burkitt leukemia/lymphoma and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
With the news hitting social media locally Thursday directing supporters to a GoFundMe account created to help with Smith’s medial bills, Chanticleers coach Gary Gilmore spoke about the left-hander who starred for the program from 2012-14 before becoming a 17th-round pick of the Houston Astros.
“It crushed me,” Gilmore said of initially learning of Smith’s condition. “That poor kid has been through so much with the Tommy John [surgery on his pitching elbow] and all the work he did to get back, and then to turn around and have to deal with something that threatens to take your life away – at any age, but especially at the age he’s at – very sad.
“Benny was one of us. It’s like having a step-kid with you. I spent as much time with him as I did my family for three years. He’s just such a great kid. For that to happen to him, it’s so sad. I just hope the doctors are right, and at least what he shared with me and his dad, they hope after eight months of these treatments once a month he’ll be at a point where he has the thing completely in remission where he can possibly go back and play again. I’m assuming that’s the best-case scenario. Worst-case, hopefully we help him defeat the thing where he can live a normal life.”
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Smith was a first-team All-Big South selection in 2013 and was set to be the Chants’ top pitcher as a junior in 2014, but his season ended after six starts due to the elbow injury and subsequent Tommy John surgery. The Astros still drafted him that summer, though, as he would finish his collegiate career with a collective 2.57 earned-run average and 181 strikeouts over 178 1/3 innings.
According to the GoFundMe account set up to support him, Smith was diagnosed with the Burkitt leukemia/lymphoma just days before he was to make his first professional start for the Greeneville (Tenn.) Astros. Smith, who played his high school ball in Wichita Falls, Texas, is undergoing his chemotherapy treatments in Houston.
The website for the Lymphoma Association describes Burkitt lymphoma as a “high-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma that ... is one of the fastest growing lymphomas. This means, though, that it is more likely to be cured by treatment than many other types of lymphoma.”
Gilmore said he first learned the news from Chants pitching coach Drew Thomas and was able to talk with Smith briefly.
“Coach Thomas got word of it. He called and told me about it. I talked to Ben once and talked to his dad once,” Gilmore said. “I talked to him the day before he started the chemo. They’re kind of waiting for Ben to be at a point where he feels like he has enough energy to want to start calling guys back and talking. His dad said he was in great spirits, but really tired and out of it from this round [of treatment].”
As of early Thursday evening, the GoFundMe account was up to $4,795 after two days with a stated goal of $50,000. Coastal Carolina coaches, former teammates and other Chants supporters have been among the more than 50 donors so far.
The message on the site says, “Ben’s friends and family started this account to help the family with the significant expenses associated with his treatment in Houston. Prescription drug costs, living expenses and travels costs for his family are not covered by his insurance plan.”
Those wishing to contribute can do so at www.gofundme.com/bensmith
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.