May 10, 2018

Off The Mound With Josh Hader

Brewers reliever finding plenty of time to enjoy Wisconsin’s woods and waters

By: Chris Carns

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, brats, beer, fishing and hunting. That’s among the topics on the mind of Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader when he recently sat down to chat with Badger Sportsman.

Beside blowing fastballs past would-be hitters, Hader is an avid outdoorsman who loves to both hunt and fish. While the 24-year-old southpaw has only been a member of the Milwaukee Brewers for a short time, he’s certainly excelled at adapting to life in Wisconsin. Just last year, he was able to spend a good amount of time getting accustomed to both hunting and fishing in our state. Seemingly, white tail deer hunting is his forte, but any outdoor activity is well worth his time and is something he thoroughly enjoys, he explained.

When I talked to Hader in mid-March, he was in sunny Arizona enjoying the warm weather as I sat in my office staring blankly at yet another Wisconsin snow fall. But, spring was on the horizon and talking to him and thinking baseball made it seem that much closer.

Early beginnings

Hader said his love for the outdoors began at a young age growing up in Maryland. From there it has flourished through experiences all over the country with his high school teammates, friends and relatives.

“I got started fishing when I was a young kid on camping trips with family. You know – the ol’ bobber, hook, and worm thing,” Hader told me. “I loved to go plunk myself down on the shore and pitch out for whatever I could. We caught all kinds of different stuff – rock fish, perch, white perch, and I know we got some blue gills. I never got into bass fishing, but I know that is a blast too.”

It wasn’t until later on – when Hader turned 18 – that he decided to give hunting a try. Going out hunting for the first time was simply just a trial run.

“I was just going out with my buddy, Edgar Propst, to see what it was all about. He and his family are big into hunting,” Hader said. “So the more I listened to him tell stories about being out and seeing animals in their natural environment, it got me thinking, ‘I want to try that.’ So one day, Edgar set me up with a climber, pointed out in a direction and told me, ‘You are gonna learn for sure on this trip.’”

Hader soon found himself up in a tree looking out and seeing the woods around him.

“Seeing everything in its natural state from the trees, to the birds and little animals scurrying around was really something,” he said. “And that anticipation of possibly seeing a whitetail got me hooked. I won’t ever forget that feeling.

“I wasn’t even hunting, but it was the sound of the wind through the trees, crunching of animals around me, and the birds flying around that I really remember. I didn’t even have a license. I was just seeing what it was all about and if I wanted to try it.”

Before he came down from the tree, Hader spotted a small buck. It was out too far even if he was actually hunting, but just the same, Hader described it as a surreal feeling to see the buck standing there, “plain as day.” Thanks to his friend, Edgar, Hader got his license and has been hunting ever since.

“From that time out, I just fell in love with being in the outdoors,” he said. “It is such a cool feeling being out there, relaxed, in nature, and all around you nothing even knows you are there – everything acting as normal as can be. It is just a totally relaxing and great feeling. It sure is great to have guys like Edgar that are willing to take people out and give them an opportunity like that to fall in love with the outdoors.”

Hunting the Badger State

Hader has had the opportunity to hunt in Wisconsin as well, noting he’s “really loving Wisconsin and the hunting here.”

Last year, he was able to go deer hunting a couple different times. Hader made one trip for the rifle season just outside of Madison, where he had been put in touch with some local hunters through the Brewers’ team cook.

“I remember, there was quite a bit of crunching and leaves moving while I sat as still as I possibly could. I had a good feeling on that day and really wanted to see a Wisconsin whitetail,” Hader said. “But, as much as I wanted it to happen, every ‘crunch, crunch, crunch’ (I heard) that would get my heart racing turned out to be a squirrel or chipmunk. It was a good day though – (a friend’s) brother got a monster buck. But, yeah, I wasn’t able to harvest one on that trip.”

Hader also proved his mettle by contending with some unseasonable conditions in pursuit of a Wisconsin whitetail during the 2017 bow season. Hader told me the day was extremely hot for early fall.

“I was in a Redneck Blind and it was a scorcher. That day it was like, 90 degrees, and the blind was like a sauna. We just sat in there cooking,” Hader said. “As we sat there sweating, suddenly just a quiet ‘crunch, crunch, crunch’ was slowly heard coming from a distance away. I strained my neck to look out and shockingly, there stood a couple does and one little buck. That was great, and man, my heart got going. They weren’t big enough, so I just watched them wander around and slowly off they went.”

Hader didn’t get any venison that day, either, but said the experience and time in the woods surrounded by nature was well worth it.

Hader hasn’t always struck out when it comes to hunting. He’s harvest a few whitetails over the years. His first, a seven-pointer, came on a friend’s property in Maryland.

“I was set up with a buddy of mine, and all of a sudden I look around and out of the brush in front me, a head pops up. Right in front of me. About a 20-yard shot,” Hader explained. “It all happened in a flash. I didn’t even hear or see him coming. It just felt natural. As quiet as I could, I pulled back, let go and ‘Thunk!’ He went about 20 yards and was down.

“It was probably the best shot I’ve made on a deer with my bow and it was my first one. It’s just such a great adrenaline rush when their heads pop up and suddenly, ‘Boom!’ And it’s just ‘game on.’  Love that feeling.”

On the water

Last year was also the first time Hader took to Lake Michigan to go after some trout and salmon. The day was spent with his girlfriend, friends and former Brewer catcher Andrew Susac, who arranged the trip.

“Out on the boat, the sun was shining, the temperature was great, and we were taking it all in with some food and drink and just soaking it in,” Hader told me. “The day was really nice and the lake was just right for fishing – not real wavy. We went out with some of (Brewer announcer) Bob Uecker’s buddies and his wife, some friends, Susac and my girlfriend. I just remember that I couldn’t wait to get out, do some fishing, and be on the water with friends.”

How did it go? Hader heard quite a bit of “fish, fish!” from everyone that day.

“We were jumping out of our seats and I got to watch some real battles in getting those fish in,” he said. “They put up a great fight. The poles were bent over almost double on a couple of them. On every catch there was a ton of joking, laughing, and really just a lot of hollering. It was a fun day.”

“I know the one I caught – the only fish I caught all day – was the smallest. It wasn’t even big enough that they would let me get a picture of it. Yeah, they rode me pretty good about that one.” 

A true testament to Hader’s affection for the outdoors, as he told me, was that the experience and memories taken from that day weren’t exclusively about catching fish, but was all about being out on the lake with friends and teammates, taking in the outdoors, relaxing and enjoying it all.

Outside of baseball, Hader his childhood friends – Edgar Propst, Andrew Younker and Andrew Connors – started up an outdoor venture called Stricken Outdoors. It began with them filming their duck and goose hunting trips and is currently evolving into more of a TV show. Through his experiences with these childhood buddies, Hader has been able to enrich his experiences in the outdoors by sharing them with friends and capturing it on video and in pictures.  More info on this venture can be found at www.strickenoutdoors.com.  

Talkin’ baseball

Since being called up to the Brewers in June 2017, Hader has found Miller Park fans “bring some unbelievable energy and emotion.”

“It is really cool how in tune they are to what is going on and it’s such a great rush to see and feel the unbelievable support I have when I come out to pitch. When my number is called in the bullpen … the thunder I hear and screams from the fans can be crazy. It really carries you right to the mound.”

Apparently Hader was a heck of a hitter in high school, so I asked him when he knew it was time to put down the bat and focus on pitching. He chuckled without hesitation.

“The day I graduated from high school,” he responded. “I knew I wasn’t much for hitting curve balls. Those were tough for me, so the bat went into the bag. I decided I should put my time into pitching and getting better.”

Like many young boys growing up, Hader had dreams of becoming a Big League ball player since childhood, and he always makes sure he’s having fun out on the field.

“Even in the close games that have extra pressure, I try to remember that,” Hader said. “But as far as being in the Major League, all my life I have just been doing all I can to get better and better at every level and compete.”

I wrapped up our conversation asking Hader about his signature longer hair and any troubles it might cause.

“Yeah, it does get in the way sometimes. I mean, my glasses will fog up, it flies around, whips around my face and can be tricky,” Hader said. “But, it hasn’t really ever gotten me in any trouble pitching wise. It is just who I am I guess.”

Josh Hader has made a name for himself with the Brewer faithful for sure. As a Brewer fan personally, watching a tight ball game at Miller Park is a truly great experience. And having guys like Josh Hader to support makes it that much greater of an experience.

We at Badger Sportsman are confident he will continue to be a dominant force in closing out games for the Brew Crew. And while he may have roots in Maryland, Hader already fits in well in Wisconsin. We wish him a great season on the mound and continued great experiences hunting and fishing throughout the Badger State.

Hader spending time fishing on Lake Michigan last summer during an off day for himself and teammates.

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