Baseball is a game of numbers. So much so, that advanced statistics creates new ones almost every year. Gone are the days of simple batting and earned run averages, now you can practically break down a player’s statistics when batting against a certain pitcher on a rainy day with runners in scoring position.
There is so much more to baseball than numbers. Oftentimes, it’s factors completely alien to computers that build the player underneath the jersey. For Cubs standout Ian Happ, perhaps his biggest numbers are the years in his life, and how they created the quietly confident player you see today.
The youngest of two boys, Ian has become a Cubs fan favorite in a small amount of time. The Arizona Fall League gave the utility player a chance to climb out of the pack into numerous prospect watch lists, capping the AFL Championship going 4-for-4 with a double, two home runs (one from each side of the plate) and 3 RBI in a 6-1 Mesa victory over Surprise.
Spring training with the big league club continued his offensive torrent. Halfway into his 22nd birthday, Happ dug out his groove once more under the eyes of Maddon and Epstein, knocking .417 with four doubles, five home runs and a 1.286 OPS. He took no shame in picking the minds of Chicago staples Bryant, Rizzo, Russel and more. True to growing up with an educator, he stays hungry to learn, absorbing every chance to study he can possibly get. When he’s in the dugout, his eyes are locked on the field, constantly analyzing every play and situation that unfolds. Happ’s comradery in the clubhouse grew with the fans’ adoration.
You couldn’t see it on the field however. The clamoring for his attention, hour-long autograph sessions, fanfare at the plate or in the field. You won’t see it. Great players are born every so often, but players with Happ’s temperament are all the more rare.
Foremost, Ian never had the background that bred any type of egotistical flash. Education, discipline, dedication and family formed core pillars. The 2015 first-round draft pick still considers himself a college dropout with every clear intention of one day finishing his degree and making his mother, a professor at The Ohio State University, proud. You’ll see his outlook spill into his baseball IQ between base-running, plate approach and demeanor. He funnels every ounce of advice, experience and coaching into every minute of his playing time.
Baseball only occupies a player’s time for so long (albeit, the offseason goes by in a flash). Ian’s sharp wit and desire to contribute extends past the diamond. His second home in Texas is not the only thing he shares with his older brother (and former ballplayer) Chris. The two keep a vested interest in real estate, particularly flipping properties. Ian’s interests branch past the homes themselves, the young Cubbie is quick to expound on interior design with modern, distinctive taste, high expectations and zero allowance for a look that falls outside of his plans.
Growing up, Ian’s father, Keith, was a master of golf and expert in maintaining pristine courses. A job offer moved the family from Pittsburgh to Ohio, where the boys watched their parents continue to dedicate themselves to excellence in their respective fields. His extensive time around courses bred a competitive golfer in Happ, something he thoroughly enjoys in his free time. Golf is more than just a hobby, it’s a connection to his late father. Ian didn’t get to have a carefree celebration of pursuing professional baseball, the family was battling his dad’s fight against brain cancer at the time he was drafted.
The Happ family managed to see Ian within the Friendly Confines shortly after Ian was drafted, partaking in batting practice with the team before reporting to his minor league assignment. Cancer would claim Keith too soon, an impression still evident in his son’s face when his family is mentioned. Keith was everything a growing boy could want in a father, he helped shape his son’s career in all the years of practicing together, giving him an outlet in golf, showing him how to conduct himself personally. The pain of losing a parent, while unimaginable, gave Ian an inner strength, a level of humility and gratitude towards just what he’s doing in this life. You see maturity that came with the highest price tag, he behaves in a manner honorable to his father, the acknowledgment at the weight of the name across the back of his jersey. “Happ” is the reason the Chicago “C” is emblazoned across his front.