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Like fine wine, Happ savors his playing time

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Could some expensive French wine get Ian Happ more playing time on the Cubs? It may depend if they pass manager Joe Maddon's test of swirl, sniff, sip and savor.

Happ, who most likely will share the center-field duties with Albert Almora Jr. this season, brought Maddon two bottles of French wine, one from Bordeaux and another from the Rhone area.

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Could some expensive French wine get Ian Happ more playing time on the Cubs? It may depend if they pass manager Joe Maddon's test of swirl, sniff, sip and savor.

Happ, who most likely will share the center-field duties with Albert Almora Jr. this season, brought Maddon two bottles of French wine, one from Bordeaux and another from the Rhone area.

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Spring Training information

"He asked me when I'm going to dinner to bring them both, open them at the same time and do a comparative thing," Maddon said. "That's what I've been talking to Happer about. He's turning into this wine expert extraordinaire."

Happ is focused on French wines now after his brother made him watch a documentary about sommeliers.

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"They can smell a wine and know what it is -- it's fascinating," Happ said. "I got really interested in it and jumped into it last offseason."

Happ does like Italian wines, especially a Chianti.

"I want to get a deep understanding of French wines before I move somewhere else," he said.

Happ is moving in the right direction with the Cubs. So far in Cactus League play, Happ leads the club with five home runs, including his second off Madison Bumgarner this spring on Tuesday night.

"He wasn't very happy about it," Happ said of the Giants lefty after he served up the leadoff homer. "[I've had] a couple good at-bats against him. My four at-bats against him this spring, I've got three 3-2 counts and capitalized on a couple pitches. It's been good to see his whole repertoire and what he has. To have those kind of really good at-bats and go deep in the counts is all I'm trying to do."

Happ, 23, struck out the next two times he faced Bumgarner on Tuesday.

"[Bumgarner] is the kind of guy who tries to pick around the plate and do things to get you out," Happ said. "Every time through he tries to do something different and that's why he's been successful for a long time. It's good to see everything he's got in four at-bats. Going into the season, it'll be interesting to see what he does."

Video: SF@CHC: Happ leads off the Cubs with a homer

But that's not something Maddon and Happ will talk about.

"We have not talked about baseball one time," Maddon said. "That's the truth. I love players like that. [Jake Arrieta] was like that. Jake and I would talk about a bunch of different things. [Anthony Rizzo] comes in and we're all over the map. I'm all over the map with [Addison Russell], which I like. I'm promoting white wines with Addy.

"I think it's healthy. When they come out here [to practice], they do this, 100 percent, they grind it out, play it right and then turn into human beings. I think the balance helps us over the course of the year."

Happ likes talking wine. He prefers reds to whites, but he will consider a dry white. Happ is already looking into a trip to France in the offseason. He has yet to test the wineries in Napa, preferring to play golf whenever he's in California.

"That's the cool thing about our team and these guys," Happ said. "There's a lot more outside of baseball. There's different interests and hobbies that people have and to be able to connect to people on a different level, I think, is why this group is so close.

"[Tommy La Stella] was in there when I was explaining [the wines] to him, and we were making jokes about playing time and trying to get in the lineup."

Why not? If it takes two bottles of wine to get more at-bats, it's worth it.

"It's cool that we can share that interest," Happ said. "It's just fun to be able to share that with people, especially Joe, who is a wine connoisseur himself."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Ian Happ