The 'little victories' are fueling Happ in first All-Star season

July 17th, 2022

CHICAGO -- A brand-new duffel bag sat on the floor by Ian Happ's locker on Sunday morning, partially packed for his upcoming trip to Los Angeles. The luggage featured the logo for this year's All-Star Game.

“I'm super excited, obviously,” Happ said.

Following Sunday's 3-2 win over the Mets at Wrigley Field, Happ and teammate Willson Contreras were set to fly together to L.A. to share the Midsummer Classic experience this week. Contreras will be starting for the National League for the third time in his career on Tuesday night. This is Happ's first time as an All-Star.

Standing next to his All-Star travel gear, Happ did his best to discuss the balance between enjoying personal success and enduring the team-wide struggles of the first half. Chicago’s late rally Sunday helped snap a nine-game losing streak, at least giving the North Siders a high note to take into the season’s intermission.

"It's an individual sport within a team game," Happ said. "You're doing all these things on your own, and physically and mentally by yourself, to try to help the team win.

"So, all of those little victories that you have yourself throughout a day, throughout a week, throughout a season, you're trying to use those, learn from the bad things and just continue that process."

For Happ, there has been a series of "little victories" that have culminated in this All-Star moment for the outfielder.

After some highs and lows across 2017-18, Happ was demoted to Triple-A Iowa at the start of the '19 season. His production was strong across '19-20 (.879 OPS), but it came across 115 games total due to his time in the Minors and the pandemic-shortened season.

Then, Happ slumped dramatically to start last year, batting .183 with a .626 OPS in the first half. His playing time became more regular following a series of midseason trades, and the outfielder saw his numbers steadily climb back over the season's second half (.886 OPS).

Happ has maintained that high level of performance this season.

"I'm super happy for Ian," Cubs manager David Ross said. "I think it says a lot about, mentally, how tough he is, to me. I think when you go through that kind of adversity ... it's a hard thing to do to stay positive within yourself and believe in yourself, to come out the other side of that."

In Sunday's first-half finale, Happ singled, scored a run and had one RBI, putting the final touches on a .274/.364/.443 slash line through 90 games played. The switch-hitter has nine homers, 23 doubles (career high), 41 runs scored, 42 RBIs and 42 walks.

A week ago, when Happ learned from Ross that he made the NL's roster, he was emotional.

"He started tearing up," Contreras said. "And it got me, because that was my first reaction when I got the news about my first All-Star Game. Ian's a great guy, a great person, a great teammate. I have nothing bad to say about him. He's going to keep getting better, and there's always room to improve.

"And this year, I told you guys, I think he deserved to be there. And he got there. Hopefully, like I told him, it's the first of many, because he's going to be great."

Happ said he was looking forward to Monday night's T-Mobile Home Run Derby, especially with former Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber taking part in the annual event.

"I hope I can give him a Gatorade or a towel or something," Happ said with a smile.

Happ noted that he was also planning on connecting with Pirates All-Star David Bednar, whom the Cubs outfielder has known since they were kids growing up around Pittsburgh. Happ said he was excited to witness Albert Pujols' final All-Star Game and maybe pick the brain of someone like Nationals star Juan Soto.

"Schwarber's played with him and talks so highly of him," Happ said. "I'm excited to kind of talk to him about the way he goes about things. I think his approach is awesome."

More than anything, Happ was ready to soak everything in with his family and friends over the coming days, taking a breath from what has been a challenging first half for the Cubs as a whole.

"To be able to get a little bit of a break," he said, "where you can kind of take the hat off and just enjoy it, I think that's going to be really exciting."

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