Though he’s still a relative baby on this veteran Cubs roster, the fresh-faced Pittsburgh native doesn’t necessarily act the part. In the clubhouse, he’s got Big Dad Energy.
“I’m 25 going on 40,” says Happ. “I’m kind of the old soul on the team that just really enjoys sipping coffee and good wine, and playing golf.”
But North Siders are banking on the fact that he’ll play like his listed age in 2020. According to some reports out of Arizona, new manager David Ross is likely to pencil in the versatile Happ as the starting center fielder for opening day following a scorching hot spring in which he hit .481 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in just 10 Cactus League games.
“I definitely see a guy having a (good) at-bat, hitting to all fields,” Ross told the Chicago Tribune this past winter. “His right-handed swing looks really good so far. He seems in a great place mentally.”
It’s newsy nuggets like this that are keeping us all intrigued while we wait for baseball season to begin. At presstime, owners had approved a July start with no fans in stands, and now are negotiating with players. One thing is sure: When we do get to rally around the field again, it’s going to be momentous. And Cubs like Happ are approaching things with newfound skills and conviction.
Happ, a 2015 first-round pick, admits he’s a very different player than he was a year ago when he followed up a disappointing 2018 season in which he struck out 36 percent of his at-bats at spring training. Then-manager Joe Maddon had seen enough and exiled him to Triple-A Iowa for half of 2019.
The switch-hitting slugger was disappointed at the time, sure. But he now credits that long residency in the minors for his solid second half in a utility role and stellar spring for the Cubs.
“I had to make some adjustments and get back to the basics of what made me successful as a player earlier in my career because I was trying to be someone I wasn’t,” he says. “So I think that all that experience (in the minors) definitely helped me both physically and mentally. Now I feel way more comfortable.”
Talk to Happ enough and that word “comfortable” comes up constantly. He says he’s reassured by the familiar presence of his longtime teammates and Ross — who’s been a fixture with the franchise as a player, special assistant, and now manager.
Comfortability also defines Happ’s laid-back lifestyle. He’s stayed put in the same River North apartment since moving to the city in 2017 (“to have something that consistent as a baseball player is pretty rare,” he says) and treasures his 15-minute commute along Lake Shore Drive every day to go to work at Chicago’s iconic ballpark, the place Happ calls “my office.”
And if it were socially acceptable, Happ might wear his baby blue pinstripes just about everywhere because of how cozy the Cubs uniform feels.
“Honestly, it’s like wearing a pair of pajamas,” says Happ. “It’s amazing because when you’re younger the baseball pants you wear are stiff and uncomfortable but when you put on those big-league pants, it’s like — wow!”
Luckily, he met Mugsy Jeans founder Leo Tropeano at the 2019 Cubs Convention and tried on a pair of pants made by the local brand, which markets a more flexible, stretchable kind of denim. “As an athlete always looking for clothes that are closer to what we spend every day in, I was excited that these jeans felt like my (Cubs pants),” says Happ.
Happ was so into the jeans that he recently signed on to be an official ambassador for Mugsy. He’ll be photographed to appear in their next ad campaign, launching this month, and will also make appearances at their newly opened flagship store on the Magnificent Mile.
Or at least that’s the plan.
As it has for many Chicagoans, the stay-at-home mandate due to COVID-19 has been hard on Happ, especially without the comfort of sports.
“It’s definitely weird because in a time of crisis or when things aren’t going well usually sports is something that keeps going and gives people something to be excited about,” he says.
As it happens, Happ is especially attuned to the human spirit. He lost his father, Keith, to brain cancer in October 2015, a moment that led Happ
to focus on his mental wellbeing. He went so far as to launch a charity with his family, the Happ Family Charitable Fund, which supports mental health and wellness causes. Through the charity, he was able to commission a set of Wrigley Field artworks called “Through My Eyes.” Proceeds from sales go to initiatives through the wellness organizations Bring Change to Mind and First Tee Chicago.
It all comes from a place of hope. Happ, who enjoys meditation and yoga, likes to focus on the positive. And he’s vocal about his desire that once the current crisis passes, baseball will be a big factor in returning the city to a place of normalcy. He pictures people flocking to Wrigley Field — for the game, of course. But also for a sense of catharsis.
“Once you step out on the field, Wrigley really has this different personality or aura. It’s breathtaking,” he says.
“I think that when we finally go back out there and when people get to see us, it will be a super special and real emotional moment. And if somehow we were to win a World Series this year after everything everyone has gone through — man — that would be really cool.”
Get into the swing of things by taking some at-bats at Slugger’s World Class Sports Bar (3540 N. Clark). The second floor of this classic sports bar down the street from Wrigley Field features indoor batting cages.
See Addison Russell’s famous 2016 grand-slam ball and the largest collection of Cubs World Series memorabilia in the city at the Chicago Sports Museum (Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan).
Grab a “Cheezborger” at the original Billy Goat Tavern (430 N. Michigan) and celebrate that the Curse of the Billy Goat ended.
Gear up in an Ian Happ jersey or that of your favorite player. Get it straight from the source at the Cubs Team Store (3637 N. Clark) right outside Wrigley Field.
Drink like a local by ordering a Chicago Handshake at Nisei Lounge (3439 N. Sheffield) Wrigleyville’s oldest bar. Uninitiated in the Handshake? It’s a drink special involving a shot of Malört paired with an old-school Midwestern beer, like Old Style.
AT THE SHOOT
Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Happ was out in Mesa, Arizona, for spring training, expecting to be back in the Windy City in a few days for the season opener. But plans shifted when COVID-19 emerged, and Happ found himself with free time and a large dollop of uncertainty. Still, he’s not one to be idle and joined us for our cover shoot while also remaining focused on a style partnership with Mugsy Jeans.
Photographer: Brandon Sullivan
Wardrobe: Mugsy Jeans