Humble McCann remains student of game
Accolades aside, sixth-year Braves catcher out to improve
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While Braves manager Bobby Cox was delivering his final preseason address on Tuesday morning, bullpen coach Eddie Perez noticed that four-time All-Star catcher Brian McCann was as wide-eyed and attentive as any of the young Minor Leaguers who were listening to a legendary figure speak.
"He looked like he was experiencing his first day in the big leagues," Perez said. "He's the same guy that he's always been. I love that about him."
As McCann has established himself as one of the game's top catchers -- and a leader within the Braves' clubhouse -- he has maintained a sense of humility that is better understood when he honestly explains that he never truly believed he might play in the Majors until he arrived at Spring Training in 2005.
Seven months later, after blazing a trail through the Southern League with Double-A Mississippi, McCann found himself utilizing his first career postseason at-bat to drill a three-run homer off Roger Clemens in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
Just three years earlier, while establishing himself as a standout player at suburban Atlanta's Duluth High School, McCann never allowed himself to believe there was a chance that he would soon be playing at Turner Field or any other Major League stadium.
"To me, it was just such a far-fetched dream, that even in high school, when they were ranking me the top catcher, it just seemed so impossible," McCann said. "Even after my season with [Class A] Rome, it just seemed like it was so far away. I think when I got to Double-A, the year that I got called up, I didn't think anything about it. I was thinking that I needed to get so much better and prove myself."
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McCann introduced himself to the Major League level on June 10, 2005, with a two-hit performance that was highlighted by a second-inning RBI single against A's right-hander Dan Haren. This memorable first career at-bat only served as a sign of things to come from the young catcher, who has won three National League Silver Slugger Awards and gained his four All-Star appearances after just four full seasons at the Major League level he thought he'd never experience.
Dating back to the start of the 2006 season, McCann leads all Major League catchers in home runs (86), doubles (149), extra-base hits (237) and RBIs (366). In the process, his left-handed swing has produced a .295 batting average and a .863 OPS.
"All of that stuff hasn't hit me," said McCann of the awards and accolades. "I go out and play the best that I can. I'm trying to get better every year, because I want to do what I've been doing for the next 10 years."
As the 26-year-old McCann prepares for his sixth Major League season as the only remaining member of the Baby Braves bunch that stirred Atlanta in 2005, he still remembers arriving on the Major League scene desperate to gather any guidance that would allow him to realize his goal of never returning to the Minor Leagues.
"You're trying to learn so much and so fast," McCann said. "These guys were a lot better than me and I needed to learn a lot quick. I felt like I did that. I was around the right people. I picked things up pretty fast."
Through his interactions with John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, McCann credits the improvements he made in his game-calling skills. Through his relationship with Chipper Jones, he believes that he became a better hitter, courtesy of the fact that the veteran third baseman was able to provide him an ability to better understand how to read the tendencies of opposing pitchers.
When asked about the strides that he's made defensively, McCann points in the direction of Marlins manager and former Braves coach Fredi Gonzalez, Perez and Braves bench coach Chino Cadahia.
"I love to talk to him about catching, because he wants to learn," said Perez, who spent nine of his 11 Major League seasons as a backup catcher for the Braves. "I've always said, 'If you've got a smart catcher, then the team is going to be good.' He's got that. He's one of those guys who wants to win."
Like Perez, Cox has come to recognize McCann as a player whose contributions extend beyond what he provides from the offensive and defensive standpoints.
"He's become a leader and everything," Cox said. "He does everything that you want."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.