J.A. Happ has waited all his life for this moment.
The 35-year-old left-handed pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, a veteran of 12 big league seasons, was named to the Major League All-Star Game for the first time to represent the American League in the Midsummer Classic July 17 in Washington, D.C.
“It’s just a dream come true. There’s no other way to put it,” Happ said via text Monday morning. “I remember collecting baseball cards as a kid and always being excited when I got an All-Star card.”
Happ, the 2001 BCR Athlete of the Year from St. Bede Academy, was chosen by A.L. Manager A.J. Hinch of the defending World Series champion Houston Astros. He learned of his All-Star selection from Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons, who called a team meeting Sunday morning to announce Happ’s All-Star selection.
“It’s just another feather in his cap,” Gibbons told mlb.com. “He was kind of a late bloomer in this game, and he has just gotten better and better. It couldn’t have happened to a better guy. ... He has earned that. He hasn’t had anything given to him. He will be a great representation of the organization.”
Happ said the first person he let know he was going to the All-Star Game was his wife, the former Morgan Cawley.
“She was nearly in tears. She has been wanting it badly for me, because she knows how much it means to me,” Happ said.
Happ becomes the second former BCR area athlete to be named to the All-Star Game, joining Walnut’s Danny Kolb, who represented the Milwaukee Brewers and the National League in 2004, pitching one inning in Houston.
Another area tie to this year’s All-Star Game is Mike Foltynewicz of the Atlanta Braves. He was born in Sterling and graduated from Minooka High School in 2010.
There is an interesting twist to Happ’s All-Star selection.
He is being widely rumored as the subject of much trade talk with many suitors lining up with interests in the veteran lefty’s services, including his childhood favorite Chicago Cubs. Should a trade go down before the All-Star Game that sends Happ to the National League, he would still be recognized at the All-Star game, but not eligible to represent the Blue Jays and the American League on the field.
The same scenario played out in 2014 when the Cubs traded pitcher Jeff Samardzija to the A’s on July 4 after being named to the National League All-Star team. He was introduced wearing an N.L. shirt, but was ineligible to play.
Happ told the BCR two weeks ago he doesn’t think about the trade talk, although he knows his name is being tossed around. He said having gone through it before, he has a little better perspective about it and understanding.
Happ is ranked among the top A.L. pitchers with 10 wins (tied for fifth) and 115 strikeouts (11th). His ERA rose from 3.62 to 4.44 over his last two rough starts, tagged for seven earned runs in 5.2 innings in a 9-1 loss to the Tigers July 1, and six earned runs in 2.2 innings in an 8-5 loss to the Yankees Saturday.
“Barring the last two outings, I feel like I’ve been a lot more consistent and probably more confident,” Happ told mlb.com. “I think those things kind of go hand in hand. You try to feed off both of those. I say it all the time, but the hardest thing about the big leagues is being consistent, because everybody has the talent and the ability. It’s about doing it for the long haul and doing it consistently. That’s kind of how you separate yourself. I’ve been proud to be able to do that, for the most part.”
Unquestionably, Happ has been the Blue Jays’ best pitcher since returning to the club in 2016 as a free agent for a three-year, $36 million contract that expires at the end of this year. He went 20-4 in 2016, dipped to 10-11 last year, but sported a 3.55 ERA, and stands 10-5 this year.
The All-Star Game adds to Happ’s impressive resume, which also includes back-to-back World Series appearances with the Phillies in 2008 and 2009, the first of which claimed a World Series championship.
Earlier this season, Happ also notched his 100th career victory.
For more on Happ’s All-Star nod, visit https://www.mlb.com/bluejays/news/ja-happ-representing-blue-jays-at-asg/c-284805668