Admittedly I was beginning to doze off in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game when suddenly the National League tied the game to force extra innings. The American League answered with three runs in the top of the 10th inning to go up 8-5, and it became apparent that what we all in the Illinois Valley tuned in for was going to happen.
J.A. Happ — our J.A. Happ, of the Toronto Blue Jays — was summoned to pitch in the bottom of the 10th to preserve the A.L. lead with all of the baseball world, including the ones most dear to his heart — the Illinois Valley — watching his every move.
Perhaps caught in the moment of making his All-Star debut, Happ was touched for a 409-foot lead-off homer by Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds to right field to cut the A.L. lead to 8-6.
Undaunted, the 35-year-old left-hander, just two seasons removed from a stellar 20-4 campaign, went back to work. He struck out Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers swinging. Then he got Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies on a groundout to first base.
Happ induced another Brewer batter, Lorenzo Cain, to fly out to right fielder Mitch Haniger of the Seattle Mariners to end the game. Haniger flipped the souvenir ball to an excited Happ, a sure prized possession for years to come.
It was Happ’s very first career save in the big leagues, and he did it in his very first All-Star appearance. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Happ told me via text Wednesday afternoon he felt the presence of all the faithful followers back home in the Illinois Valley.
“It was such a great experience. To close the game out and be part of that was just awesome,” Happ said. “I’m always appreciative of the support from the Illinois Valley, but I can’t stress enough how awesome it feels to hear and see that support, especially for this All-Star nomination.”
He simply couldn’t have written a better script.
“I did the best I could to take it all in and enjoy the experience. I’ll always have the baseball from the last out of the 2018 All-Star game, and I threw it. That’s still just wild to me,” he said.
Happ added on the Blue Jays Twitter account before the game, that being selected for the All-Star game, “For me, does mean a lot, finally getting an opportunity, getting nominated for it. When it’s all said and done, and I look back, it’s something I’m going to be really proud of.”
Happ was accompanied to the All-Star Game in the nation’s capital by his wife, the former Morgan Cawley, and their two kids, J.J., 2 1/2, and Bella, 8 months, along with their parents, and his agents, he said.
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Here’s a look at the excitement Happ’s All-Star appearance created around the Illinois Valley via social media:
From St. Bede Academy Alumni Association (Facebook):
“Congratulations J.A. Happ, ‘01, in his first EVER All-Star Game, he earned his first EVER save! Not only is your Bruin family proud, so is the entire IL. Valley that watched you play tonight #hometown hero #bedanpride”
From @sbabruinbaseball (Twitter):
“How about a retweet for our hometown hero? St. Bede Bruin Alum #AllStarGame18 1st save! #gobruins”
From Kevin Hieronymus @bcrsportsed (Twitter):
“From Washington Park in Peru to St. Bede Academy and BCR Athlete of the Year, to the MLB All-Star Game. How Sweet is that?”
From @sbasuperfans (Twitter):
“Always making his Saint Bede family proud!! Congratulations J.A.!!”
From Dawn Carlson Williams (Facebook):
“Fun All-Star Game & great seeing hometown star J.A. Happ getting the save :)”
From @BlueJays (Twitter):
“Being An All-Star is certainly not something our big lefty is taking for granted. Enjoy the night, J.A.
“Ballgame over. In his FIRST EVER @MLB All-Star Game, J.A. gets his FIRST EVER SAVE”
And Matt McDonald, Hall assistant baseball coach/former professional pitcher, added:
“It’s not only great for J.A. and his family but the IV area in general. He’s had some really good years and been left off the (All-Star) roster so this has to be a great feeling for him as he starts to get closer to the end of his career. Very happy and excited for him and to get the save in extras, that’s money.”
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. He has covered Happ in his high school and big league career. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.