How Jason Heyward played a big role in Ian Happ’s journey to the All-Star Game
On July 13 last season, Ian Happ was hitting .183 with a .626 OPS and had been forced into a part-time role.
The Cubs were utilizing an outfield of Joc Pederson, Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant with Jake Marisnick also working in. That didn’t leave much room for Happ as he battled to find consistency at the plate.
Everybody knows what happened next. The Cubs traded away Pederson, Bryant and Marisnick, leaving Happ to play every single day after the deadline.
He had a fantastic end to the 2021 campaign (hitting .288 with a .944 OPS in August and September) and carried it into this year to supply consistent offense to the middle of the Cubs order.
Earlier this week, Happ was named to his first All-Star team — an honor all the more prestigious given how far he has come in the last year.
As Happ stood at his locker inside the Cubs clubhouse Wednesday afternoon, he was quick to give credit to those who have helped him reach this point — including Jason Heyward, whom Happ called special attention to.
“From being in a spot where you’re hitting [.176] in August last year and the lows of that point to where it is now, it’s crazy,” Happ said. “There’s so much that goes into why that was happening last year and people that have been with me for the entire time and people that helped me through those struggles last year — Jason Heyward was a huge part of that in the middle of last year.
“Having him after the deadline, talking through things, working through mental stuff and getting to this point — he’s been here the whole way but a big part of that turnaround.”
Happ and Heyward have been teammates in Chicago for the last six years, roaming the Wrigley Field outfield together for much of that time.
Heyward has been through a lot in this game — a 13-year career that began when he was a 20-year-old rookie in Atlanta. He has seen ups and downs and has been universally lauded as a fantastic teammate and leader during his time with the Cubs.
As Happ reflects on how far he’s come, he felt compelled to share his gratitude for Heyward.
“Mentally, [he helped] a lot,” Happ said of Heyward. “Being able to talk through things with him — the friendship, the advice, some stuff that only he’ll understand. Been a part of this team, this organization and such a selfless, unbelievable human.
“I can’t say enough about how much he’s helped my career from Day 1, but especially in the last 12-18 months.”
Manager David Ross admitted he had to have some tough conversations with Happ last season about the outfielder’s playing time and struggles. But those chats have come full circle here this week with Happ’s leaguewide honor.
“First of all the human being — if you can’t get along with Ian, the guy’s a great human being and he’s infectious in his personality and his conversations as soon as you’re around him,” Ross said. “The baseball side of that, I think you grow and the more people you’re around, the more you have those conversations.
“The fact that Ian listened and put the work in, I think that tells you all you need to know about the human being and where his mental state is and his belief in himself.”
When Happ steps on the field in L.A. next week, it will be validation for all of his hard work — not just over the last year but over his entire life.
“That’s attached to you forever,” Happ said of the All-Star nod. “They can’t take that away from you. That’s a really, really cool thing to represent this team and this organization and this city — especially coming up here, being drafted here and wearing this jersey for as long as I have.
“Being able to go out in L.A. and represent the organization, I’m really, really thankful for that. When Theo [Epstein] texted me, I thanked him for giving me the chance here and to be able to do it in front of these fans and this city.”