Not just anyone gets to sit in the back of the team plane. In 2017, Ian Happ’s rookie season, it was the domain of veterans like Jon Lester and John Lackey.
Happ, however, was the guy who carried Lester’s speaker. A purveyor of country music – and “a little bit of Bruno Mars toward the end of the flight, maybe,” Happ said – the speaker was so big it had its own bag.
“About a month into my rookie year, being able to actually be in the back of the plane because I was the guy carrying the speaker was pretty special,” Happ said. “I formed a great friendship with those guys.”
On Monday, Happ and Lester will reunite at Wrigley Field, for the first time since the veteran southpaw signed with the Nationals this winter. Lester is scheduled to start in the series opener.
Lester said this weekend that he’d stayed in contact with several people in the Cubs organization. On a Zoom conference call with Chicago and Washington media, he brought up three former teammates by name. The first two were obvious: now-manager David Ross and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, whose friendships with Lester dated back to their days in the Red Sox organization.
The third was Happ.
“I have -- obviously a lot of respect -- but a lot that I owe to him,” Happ said, “for my first years in the big leagues, just what he did for me as a young guy. So, it'll be emotional, I think on both sides. For the family and the kids too, all the way around. But it's going to be a really cool day, really special.”
For those who played with Lester, gratitude was a familiar theme when asked about his Cubs tenure. They have stories of dinners, parties, golf, and conversations about baseball.
“I learned so much from him every day that he was here,” right-hander Kyle Hendricks said Sunday, “that I'll be forever indebted to him.”
Said Ross: “It's just nice to see somebody that you've made history with and that you have a long relationship with, for a lot of these guys.”