"It doesn't really matter where you come from or where you get drafted. There's guys who made it to the big leagues from the 40th round. It's all about working hard and not giving up on your dream." - Josh Hader
When you watch Josh Hader on the mound, it is hard to imagine a time when he wasn't sure if he was going to keep playing baseball - much less excelling at it. The 2014 Astros Minor League Pitcher of the Year is already filling up his trophy case with accolades - two championship rings, a combined no-hitter, California League Pitcher of the Year - all before his 21st birthday.
That's quite an accomplishment for a young man whose plan was to find a community college before getting a phone call from the Baltimore Orioles telling him they drafted him in the 19th round of the 2012 MLB Draft . . .581 picks after the Astros selected Carlos Correa.
Being drafted at all, much less by a team 20 miles from his hometown of Millersville, Md., was a dream come true for Hader. In a strange coincidence, he was actually on his way to Camden Yards for a high school All-Star baseball ceremony.
"I don't even know if words could describe that feeling," Hader said of getting drafted. "You have the opportunity to make it to the big leagues. You have your foot in the door. I couldn't really process it. It was like, 'Is this a dream? When am I going to wake up?'"
One year later, Josh was still settling in to his first full season of minor league ball when he recieved another life-altering call. He was in West Virginia, one day before a scheduled start for the Class-A Delmarva Shorebirds, when he found out he had been traded.
It was July 31, 2013. The Astros dealt former Hooks pitcher Bud Norris to the Orioles in exchange for 19-year-old Hader, outfielder L.J. Hoes and a draft pick. In just over 13 months, Hader had gone from seeking a community college to pitch for to being part of a major trade.
But none of that was on his mind at the time. All he could think about was having another day to wait before taking the eight-hour bus ride back with his now-former team to Maryland. That's life in the minor leagues.
Now an Astro
Hader landed in Iowa to find a Quad Cities River Bandits team in the middle of a playoff race. A team comprised of many members of the 2015 Hooks roster (Carlos Correa, Teoscar Hernandez, Tony Kemp, Roberto Pena, Danry Vasquez, Mark Appel, Chris Devenski, Mitchell Lambson, Lance McCullers, Daniel Minor and Vince Velasquez) greeted the lanky lefty with open arms.
"It was pretty easy coming in [to the Astros system]," Hader said. "They were all pretty laid back. They didn't make it weird."
Laid back is the common denominator with anything involving Hader. You won't find a more relaxed personality in the Corpus Christi clubhouse. Hader spends most of his time there playing a card-version of Monopoly or watching his PlayStation 4 passed around by teammates who want their crack to prove they are truly the best at FIFA.
When asked to name his best friends on the team, Hader started naming guys so quickly that he had to stop and, with a smile, change his answer to "basically the whole team."
The mellow attitude doesn't disappear when he crosses the foul lines on game day, either. Sure, Hader is a competitor at heart, always wanting to give his team the best chance to win, but he's still the same guy on the mound - only now he's throwing low-90s fastballs and two plus breaking pitches at you instead of deal breaker cards in Monopoly.
Back in Quad Cities, Hader was given the ball with a chance to complete the sweep for his new team. In just his fifth start as a member of the River Bandits, he turned in one of the best performances of his life - throwing seven shutout innings on just three hits while striking out eight to seal a championship. So what does he remember about that special performance?
"Couldn't tell you," Hader said. "I don't remember those things. I don't even remember what I had for lunch yesterday."
Pitcher of the Year
Having a short memory is a trait that any player or coach will tell you is necessary in order to succeed in baseball. Some days you have it; some days you don't. For most pitchers in the notoriously hitter-friendly California League, most days they don't. Not Hader.
Pitching for a team that posted an ERA of 4.75 collectively, all Hader did was baffle hitters to the tune of a 2.71 ERA - by far the lowest of any California League pitcher with at least 80 innings. Not bad for the youngest pitcher on the youngest team in the league.
Cal League Hitters breathed a sigh of relief when the Astros promoted Hader to Corpus Christi at the end of the 2014 season. For his efforts, Hader was named League Pitcher of the Year and was awarded the same honor by Houston, who saw him as its top minor league hurler.
Of course, Hader was pleased to reach Double-A, but disappointed that he wasn't able to be with his teammates in Lancaster when they won the California League championship. Two rings in two years for teams with many players in 2015 Hooks uniforms.
"Our teams that we've had have just been unreal," Hader said. "You don't really expect - actually, right now I kind of expect to go to the championship again just because of the team we have. Every guy on the roster gives us a chance to win."
For the moment, Hader continues to baffle hitters that are, on average, three and a half years his senior. He says he wants to fine-tune his mechanics and work on improving his off-speed stuff. Every pitcher says those things. But every pitcher is not Josh Hader. Every organization would love to have a guy like him, but they already had their chance - 581, in fact.
Getting to know Josh Hader:
- He has a miniature Australian shepherd named Camden. Yes, as in Camden Yards.
- He loves to hunt deer, duck and geese, as well as fish bass.
- He's a big Washington Capitals fan and considers hockey his second-favorite sport.
- He plays guitar, but unlike most other things in his life, he does it right-handed.
- He has a few tattoos, one that says "Loyalty" on his left wrist, a picture of St. Michael for his grandmother as well as an inscription of Luke 1:37 on his left bicep, and a rosary that is self-drawn.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.