How F1 fandom helped Happ’s baseball training

June 26th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

LONDON -- As baseballs soared through London Stadium during batting practice at Friday’s workout, one of McLaren’s Formula 1 cars was parked behind the cage. Nearby, Cubs outfielder chatted with F1 drivers Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

Happ found his way to F1 fandom via the “Drive to Survive” show on Netflix a few years ago, and binging the episodes led to an epiphany. Happ was fascinated by the drivers’ vision training and felt it was an area he could be more disciplined daily.

“In baseball, we don't train the eyes, but we use them all the time,” Happ said. “Some of that stuff, I did a little bit of in college, and then we've had some stuff with the Cubs over time. But the commitment to it that those guys have at the highest level, I thought, was really interesting.

“So that's when I started looking at, ‘How can we apply this to baseball? How could it work?’ That started my discovery into it.”

Happ pointed to how F1 drivers will be doing exercises with visual tools to activate their eyes and practice mental firing patterns right before getting in the car for a race. Happ has pregame drills he does for the same reasons and has vision-training stickers inside his helmet that he will look at before walking to the batter’s box.

“When I look into it,” Happ said, “I'm trying to fire my eyes up before I go and try to decipher if it's 99 [mph] in my face or it's a [Adam] Wainwright curveball.”

Happ showed off his power and plate discipline during the two-game London Series. He launched a pair of home runs off Wainwright in a 9-1 win in Game 1, and then drew three walks in four plate appearances in Sunday’s 7-5 loss to the Cardinals.

Happ is hitting .267/.391/.429 with seven homers, 18 doubles and 37 RBIs this season. His 53 walks are third in baseball behind only Juan Soto and Kyle Schwarber, and his 16.3% walk rate ranks sixth in MLB among qualified hitters.

“He’s a guy that stays true to what he does,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I think he's having more and more consistent at-bats throughout the season.”

Happ has developed into one of the Cubs’ most reliable hitters over the past few years. Plenty of factors have led the outfielder to that place as an offensive performer -- the vision training is just one aspect when looking under the hood.

Happ noted that he had the chance to meet Zak Brown, the CEO of McLaren, during an F1 race in Austin, Texas, last year. The Cubs outfielder was permitted to be in the garage during the qualifying stage. And at the London Series, Happ was thrilled to get the chance to chat with a couple of drivers.

“There's only 20 of them in the world that do what they do,” Happ said. “That's so impressive.”