Ian Happ: The Ultimate Utility Man (Un-Cut All-Star Edition)

By Zach Leach

In its most basic form, “utility” can be described as usefulness, or the ability for something to fill a need. The idea of a consumer making purchasing decisions based on utility is an important concept in economic theory. An important rule of utility is the “Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility”, which states that as a person increases their consumption of a product, the increase in utility for each additional unit of the product is less than the increase from the previous unit. As a finance major at the University of Cincinnati, Ian Happ knows all about utility. As a two-time Cape League All-Star for Harwich, he also may just be an exception to the rule. There’s no diminishing utility with him at all. As Mariners’ coaches, players, and fans will tell you, the more Ian Happ, the better.

With nearly two seasons on the Cape under his belt, Happ has proved to be one of the most valuable and versatile players to ever play in the league. In both years combined, he has played at seven positions, including all three outfield spots and pitcher. 2013 saw him make fifteen starts at first base, and five or more at designated hitter, left field, right field, and second base. This season, he made the move to center field as well, where he plays the majority of his games at school, but has made almost an equal amount of starts there, left field, and first base. “It’s great to be able to be versatile for the coach so that he can put me wherever he needs to and try to get my name in the lineup every day”, Happ said.

His usefulness doesn’t end on the field. Happ has been one of the most dynamic players in the league at the plate the past two summers. Last year, he led the Mariners in nearly every single batting statistic. He hit .293 with seven doubles and five home runs, both scoring and driving in 22 runs, stealing 13 bases and slugging .469. His numbers were good enough to put him amongst the league leaders in many categories. Happ finished the season second in the division in runs scored, second in the division and sixth in the league in home runs, tied for sixth in the division in RBIs, tied for fifth in the league in stolen bases, and fourth in the division in slugging. Impressive numbers for sure, yet Happ has either topped or is on pace to beat all of those marks this summer. “Having a lot of energy and being able to make something happen with my feet and put the ball in play as much as I can” is what Happ says differentiates himself from his peers, and his confidence also helps him to succeed wherever he plays.

Happ was an easy choice for the 2013 Cape League All-Star Game, and among a long list of impressive games and benchmarks reached, he points to last year’s midsummer classic as his favorite Cape League memory.  “It’s a great experience and I’m truly honored (to have played), Happ said, “It was pretty special.” With a home run and a double as the starting DH for the East All-Stars, it was a strong performance for the Mariners star, as he helped lead his side to a blowout victory.

The playoffs were also a highlight for Happ, but not so much for Harwich. After finishing third in the division with a 23-19-2 record, just a half-game out of second place, the Mariners squared off against the Orleans Firebirds in the first round. While Happ slashed an incredible .375/.583/.750, it was not enough, as Harwich fell two games to one to the eventual East champs. “It was a lot of fun, the whole playoff experience, and we were a very good team, we just got a little bit worn out toward the end of the year”, Happ admitted, “It would be nice if we could go a little farther this year and maybe get ourselves a title.”

Win or lose, Happ just loves to play the game. Team success is just an added bonus for him during his time in Harwich, as he has mostly played through adversity at the college level. During his freshman year, Cincinnati finished ninth out of eleven in the Big East Conference, and then after moving to the new American Athletic Conference for this past season, the Bearcats came in last place. However, Cinci’s struggles haven’t stopped Happ from becoming a big name in NCAA baseball. He was a 2013 Freshman All-American in 2013 and then a First Team All-AAC selection in 2014. Over the course of his first two seasons, he has a .322 average with 73 runs, 63 RBIs, and 41 stolen bases in 107 contests. He led the team in runs, doubles, home runs, walks, batting average, slugging, and on-base percentage during his dynamite freshman year, and also led the Big East in walks and finished fifth in both stolen bases and on-base percentage. He led Cincinnati again in slugging, on-base percentage, home runs, walks, and stolen bases this spring.

Athletics is just a part of Happ’s college experience though, as academics were a big part of his decision to attend Cincinnati. “It was big for me to be in the business school and have an opportunity to get my degree”, he shared, “That’s the biggest thing is ‘student athlete’, being a student first and getting your work done in the classroom so that you can go succeed on the baseball field.”

With a maturity beyond his years and athleticism and skill that anyone in baseball would want on their team, Happ is a prized prospect. The Pittsburgh, PA native admits that his mind wanders to the Major League Baseball draft every so often, saying “Any opportunity to play at the next level would be incredible, but it would be really special to play for one of the hometown teams”, like the Pirates or Reds. Overall though, he keeps his future in mind but lives for the present. “If my name gets called, that would be unbelievable and a dream come true, but right now I’m just trying to go out and play as hard as I can and win baseball games.”

The Mariners need him to do just that, as they try to keep their success going right into the postseason. Harwich certainly has the personnel to get the job done this year, as they have led the East for the majority of the season. Happ is especially optimistic about their chances to bring the championship to Harwich this year. “It’s been a great bunch of guys here just like last year and the same coaching staff, which is great…So far we’ve been playing good as a team, holding on to that first place spot”, he said, “I think this team has the pitching, the hitting…we’re just a well-rounded team with a lot of guys who really want to be here and really want to win.” “Everybody coming together and really enjoying playing the game together (is the key to success). The best teams I’ve been on, everybody is best friends and pulling for each other all the time. We have that here.” Happ described.

“Utility”, in the baseball since of the word, often gets a negative connotation. It’s a player who generally has no starting role and is just plugged in to the lineup at any number of positions. That doesn’t describe Ian Happ at all. Happ has been a star for the Harwich Mariners for two years now, playing multiple positions just because he can and because they can’t afford to leave him out of the game. He makes the plays that need to be made when it matters most. In fact, Happ wrapped a first-inning home run around the left field foul pole as I put the finishing touches on this article. He’s a clutch hitter, a dangerous base runner, and a versatile fielder. He simply gets the job done. This is why he provides more “utility” to his team and his fans than anyone else in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

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