After earning First Team All–Big Ten honors in his junior year with Northwestern baseball, J.A. Happ ’04 was selected in the third round of the 2004 MLB Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. He eventually broke in with the big-league club in 2007 and was even a part of the 2008 team that brought Philly its first World Series since 1980.
Since then the 35-year-old Happ has called several other places home, playing in Toronto for two stints, as well as Houston, Seattle and Pittsburgh. He was a 20-game winner for Toronto in 2016, when he finished sixth in the American League Cy Young Award voting.
But it wasn’t until this year that he earned his first nod to the MLB All-Star Game, representing the Toronto Blue Jays in July.
When the trade deadline rolled around at the end of July, the Blue Jays were sellers, and the Yankees were in need of a proven starting pitcher.
Now Happ is clean shaven (a Yankees rule) and donning pinstripes. Since joining the Yankees, Happ has gone 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts. On Wednesday he could be the Yankees starter in a pivotal wild card game against the Oakland A’s.
Earlier this season Happ took some time to reflect on his career since his days pitching for the Wildcats, as well as earning All-Star recognition for the first time:
When you think back about the goals and expectations you had for yourself while playing at Northwestern, was this the career you envisioned?
J.A. Happ: Wow, great question. I don’t know how I envisioned my career necessarily going. The goal was always to get and stick in the Major Leagues. Then if you’re able to do that, then you keep going with your goals and expectations.
But when I was at Northwestern, my goal was to get drafted and then get to the big leagues. That was always the focus.
Obviously it’s gone a little bit better than just sticking around. You’ve had some impressive years over your career, but this one has to be special after earning the nod to the All-Star game. What was that experience like?
JH: It was unbelievable. I was hoping leading up to it that there’d be a chance that I’d get that. When our manager (Toronto Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons) called a quick meeting and announced it in front of everybody that I got the All-Star bid, I was just so excited. Literally a dream come true.
What’s it like being a Yankee?
JH: I think the main thing is the history involved with the organization, the championships and the legacy. You always wonder what it would be like to put the pinstripes on. So far it’s been really special.
I know one of the Yankees’ rules is no facial hair. Did you have facial hair when they acquired you?
JH: I did. That was a little bit of an adjustment. I generally never shave. I probably haven’t actually shaved my face in years, with an actual razor. So I’m trimming it very short and I have to make sure I’m on top of that because that definitely is a rule.
It’s been a couple years since you’ve been in the postseason You looking forward to getting back there?
JH: That’s what we all play for. I was fortunate enough to have been in the playoffs a few times and, man, that’s where it’s at. That kind of energy and the excitement of coming to the park, those are the type of things that make it all worth it. You never know what can happen in the playoffs.
Nick Friar ’14 covers the Boston Red Sox for the New Bedford Standard-Times and the Providence Journal. A graduate of the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, Friar was a four-year member of Northwestern's baseball team.