EAST HARWICH – Ian Happ had done his research. He studied up and even read “The Last Great League,” a 2001 book written by Jim Collins that encapsulates the magic and lore of the Cape Cod Baseball League.
“This was it,” Happ said. “This was the place. This is where all the greats went.”
Despite a strong freshman season at the University of Cincinnati, Happ didn’t have any guarantees when he first drove over the Cape Cod Canal in 2013. He was invited to join the Harwich Mariners on a temporary basis that summer, an arrangement that quickly became full time once he took the league by storm.
Nearly a decade after he captured the attention of Cape Cod baseball lovers on the field and the hearts of the local community off of it, Happ cemented his place in Cape League history Sunday when he was recognized as one of the six members in the league’s 2022 Hall of Fame induction class.
“I tell people all the time that this is the most special place in the world,” Happ told the crowd. “I was so lucky to spend two summers here. It was the best two summers of my life.”
The versatile Mt. Lebanon, Pa. native played seven positions — including pitcher and all three outfield posts — during his two summers in Harwich. As a Cape rookie in 2013, he posted a .293 batting average with seven doubles, five home runs, 22 runs scored, 22 RBI, 13 stolen bases and a .469 slugging percentage.
While he was a daily contributor for the Mariners, the switch-hitting Happ credits his 2013 All Star Game performance for putting him on the radar of big-league scouts.
“I went to the All Star Game my first year and hit a homer lefthanded and a double righthanded and that was it, I was good, I was a first-rounder from then on out,” Happ said. “I got to come back and have fun the second summer.”
While presenting the award, Harwich manager Steve Englert said it was obvious Happ was destined for greatness.
“I wish DraftKings was around back then because based on all the phone calls that I received from every single Major League Baseball club, I would’ve pushed everything I had in on him being drafted in the first round,” Englert said.
Success has followed Happ at the professional ranks ever since the Chicago Cubs selected him with the ninth pick in the first round of the 2015 draft. This past season was his best yet, as he was named a 2022 All Star and won the National League Gold Glove Award for his play in left field.
Regardless of the accolades he’s earned, Happ is quick to cherish his time spent on the Cape and the relationships he made in Harwich. It starts with Englert, the manager who recognized his talent coming from a mid-tier college program.
“He’s still the best coach I’ve ever had,” Happ said after the ceremony. “The way that he cares about the game and makes it fun for the kids who come here in a pressure-packed environment, it’s the best baseball experience I’ve ever had.”
The weekend festivities also allowed Happ to reconnect with Tom and Ashby Craft, a couple that has hosted many Mariners over the years — including Happ — on their Harwich Port farm.
“Tom and Ashby were the best host parents in the world,” Happ said. “It’s amazing how much of an impact they’ve had on me.”
One of the more emotional moments of Happ’s speech came when he spoke about the environment Cape locals created to help him focus on baseball while his late father battled brain cancer.
“I don’t talk about it much, but the way that the people here took me in as family — they let my family deal with that and took me in and took care of me so that I could do what I love and continue my dreams, and it’s something I’ll never forget,” he said. “It’s the reason this place is what it is.”
Regardless of how Happ fares during the rest of his professional career, he’ll always have a home in Harwich and be revered as one of the best switch hitters in league history, a realization that moved him to tears Sunday.
“This is probably the greatest honor of my baseball career and I really appreciate it,” he said.
Email Brad Joyal at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BradJoyal