Angelo State pitcher Joe Hauser earned the Rams’ last win of the 2016 season, pitching 2.2 innings of relief in the South Central Regional Championship game. He also earned their first win in 2017, pitching four shutout innings against Regis in the second game of the season. The summer and fall between those two wins, however, were anything but normal for the senior from Georgetown, Texas.
While Joe was playing for a summer collegiate league team in Arvada, Colo., a skateboarding accident in July 2016 put him in a coma for two weeks. When he awoke, Joe was told rehabilitation would probably not end until May or June of 2017.
By September of 2016, however, Joe was playing catch with his brother. Doctors had told him he shouldn’t over-exert himself and that normal activities before the accident would probably be too much for him to do now. After an errant throw, Joe chased down the ball and, without even thinking, threw it back to his brother.
“It was a pretty long distance, because my brother was really firing the ball at me,” Joe said. “I ran back to get it and without even thinking about it I threw it back to him from that long distance. It got there on a line and felt pretty easy and I remember thinking, ‘Am I even hurt?’ That was pretty awesome.”
Joe’s first foray into the world of baseball came at three years old on the tee-ball field. By age seven, he was already ahead of the rest of the kids his age, moving up to kid-pitch two years ahead of schedule. He was pitching at an early age, he said, but when he wasn’t on the mound he loved to play shortstop, as well.
Through middle school, Joe played all three of the sports his father played in college, also competing in football and basketball, and he continued to play basketball in high school.
After high school, Joe enrolled at Temple College for baseball and school, but his first year on the field at the collegiate level did not go as well as he hoped.
“I got redshirted my first year, mainly because I was pretty terrible if we’re being honest,” Joe said. “I had a decent season my second year there, though, and I finished with my associate degree, so I wasn’t planning on going back for a third year.”
Angelo State head baseball coach Kevin Brooks had known about Joe since high school, he said, and knew his character and strong work ethic. Joe came to ASU for his sophomore season, but struggled, giving up nine earned runs in just five innings on the mound.
“He’s a funny guy and a good teammate, but he hadn’t really reached his potential yet,” Brooks remembered. “At the end of his first year with us, we sat down and said, ‘Let’s go be the player you’re capable of being.’ He really changed his work ethic after that, and I think his desire changed a lot after that first year here.”
In 2016, Joe became an integral part of the Rams pitching staff, making the second-most appearances on the team and posting a 5-2 record and a 3.94 ERA as ASU made a second straight trip to Cary, N.C., for the NCAA Division II College World Series.
“He was the guy last year to bridge us from the starting pitcher to Graylon (Brown), or whoever we had to close that day, and that was huge,” Brooks said. “With fielders, the same players go out there every day. With pitching, it’s different every day, so it’s nice to have a guy who can be a constant. He’s really versatile, which is a huge plus for the team.”
While Joe was competing for the Rams in the spring of his junior year, he began to make summer plans. In talking with teammate Kellen Rholl, Joe found out about the Arvada Colts, a summer team in the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Baseball League. Joe called the head coach of the team and informed him that he would like to play there during the summer. After a few weeks, the team called back and officially added him to the roster.
While on the mound with the Colts, Joe was dominant. In 14 appearances, he went 1-1 with four saves. He pitched 18.1 innings with 25 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.96, and had a lot of fun on the mound during the summer.
“One game, we were facing the team that was leading the league and we were number two,” Joe said. “I went out there in the ninth inning when we were up by one and struck out all three batters. That’s one of the games that really sticks out to me.”
That July, the Colts were scheduled to open the RMCBL playoffs against the Denver Cougars. The night before, Joe went to sleep close to 8 p.m., which he said was probably the earliest he’s gone to sleep in his college career.
Around 2 a.m., Joe woke back up and at the urging of a host brother who lived in the same house, got up to go ride around the neighborhood. Joe grabbed a skateboard, something he had been doing since age five, and went outside. The host brother didn’t come outside for a while, so Joe decided to ride down a hill in the neighborhood while he was waiting.
“The house on the corner had a sprinkler system going, so there was water in the street,” Joe remembered. “I saw it, so I planned on making a wide turn and checking for cars before I went onto the intersecting street. I had probably done it like 40 times. I just remember the back wheels slipping as I went into the turn. I fell and hit my head on the asphalt, and I went into the coma then.”
The host brother found Joe about five minutes later, but both his and Joe’s phones were dead.
“He said he stopped and prayed and then turned my phone on,” Joe said. “He called 9-1-1 and gave them our location, and as soon as he did that, my phone died again. He thought I was dead.”
Fellow Rams outfielder Elias Aguirre was across town living with another host parent when the accident occurred, but not long after the ambulance was called, he was shaken awake and told about Joe’s accident. The junior outfielder went to the hospital with his host family, joining Rholl and Joe’s host family.
“It was crazy seeing everyone there while Joe was just unconscious,” Aguirre remembered. “That night just seemed like it went on forever.”
Late in the afternoon, Aguirre and Rholl had to leave to play a game. The Colts won that game and one more before being eliminated from the playoffs, and while that meant time to go home for most players, Aguirre and Rholl stayed behind.
“In the summer, it’s hard because our players finished at the College World Series, came home and packed for two or three days and left for summer ball,” Brooks said. “By the time you finish playing in the summer, you just want to go home. Those guys stayed with Joe, though, until things were going to be okay. I think that says a lot about the family they are and what great teammates both those guys are.”
After he hit his head, Joe said he was unconsciousness for the next two weeks. Even with the head injury, though, Joe said he remembers things from while he was in the coma.
“I’ll definitely say that I went to a pretty different place,” he said. “I was happy there, and it was just amazing. I went there, and after going through some things in that place, I remember waking up and seeing my family.”
Working Back to the Mound
After he woke up, the rehab process began. Originally, Joe said, the doctors told him he would not be cleared of everything until May or June of 2017. The actual date was Oct. 21, 2016.
In August 2016, Joe was flown to a special rehabilitation center in Dallas, where he did about a month of in-patient rehab before going back home to Georgetown for out-patient therapy. Although he got out and started playing catch as early as September, Joe said the recovery definitely wasn’t easy.
“Walking was the hardest thing,” he said. “There were places that hurt that I didn’t even know existed. Just from walking, I probably stopped getting sore after about a month. The next step was walking up the stairs, and that felt nearly impossible at the beginning. I had to hold both sides of the handrail at the beginning.”
Walking was the hardest thing. There were places that hurt that I didn’t even know existed.
Even as Joe endured the ups and downs of rehab, Brooks recalled that as soon as Joe woke up, he started saying he would be back for the season, and he understood the determination behind those words.
By Jan. 10, 2017, the first day of spring practice for the Rams, Joe was back. The next day, he was pitching during an intersquad scrimmage, the first time any of the team had seen the senior hurler on the mound since his July accident.
“He threw hard, but his pitches weren’t moving like they usually do, so it wasn’t a great day for him,” Brooks said. “Ever since then, he’s been lights out. He’s just a miracle, and I think every doctor will tell you that. What he did is not supposed to happen. It doesn’t even cross your mind that he went through all that anymore.”
During the preseason, Brooks and the coaching staff decided to have Joe throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Rams on opening day against Regis. The community support for him had been so great, Brooks said, it was fitting to have him throw.
Brooks wanted to put him in the game on the first day, as well, but the situation didn’t present itself. That Saturday, however, after starting pitcher Shane Browning pitched five innings, Joe came out to start the sixth, receiving a standing ovation when his name was announced.
“It was humbling and exciting, hearing that cheer from the crowd when I came out,” Joe said. “I was pretty amped up. Even my first two pitches were balls, up in the zone, and I remember just telling myself, ‘Calm down, and let’s go.’”
Joe’s father, George Hauser, was on the field with his son for the first pitch on opening day and in the stands when Joe came on to pitch the next day. The experience, he said, is one he’ll never forget.
“It started before they even announced his name,” George said. “People saw him coming in and were clapping. My wife and I were just holding onto each other for dear life during that first inning. It was just an emotional experience. The love people have for Joe is just incredible.”
Joe did calm down and induce a fly-out from that first batter. The senior allowed just one baserunner in four innings pitched that day.
My wife and I were just holding onto each other for dear life during that first inning. It was just an emotional experience. The love people have for Joe is just incredible.
Still, the Rams were trailing heading into the bottom of the ninth and on the verge of losing their second straight game to open the season. With two on and one out, Mitch Henshaw came to the plate and sent the second pitch he saw deep to right field and over the fence, giving the Rams – and Joe – their first win of the season.
“Getting that first win was extremely special,” Joe said. “I had never been a part of a walk-off home run like that, and it was awesome. I got the first win of this season and the last win last season. I’m just incredibly fortunate.”
After earning the first win of 2017, Joe had a senior season to remember. He set a new single-season ASU saves record with 14 on the year, and he led the pitching staff in appearances with 29. He also posted a 3.04 ERA with 34 strikeouts in just over 50 innings pitched.
Although falling just short of a third straight D-II College World Series appearance, the Rams finished the regular season with a 43-15 overall record and hosted the D-II South Central Regional Tournament for the first time in program history. Joe also honored for his contributions to the team by being named to the All-Lone Star Conference first team, as well as the ABCA and NCBWA All-Region second teams.