Future aside, McCann focused on Braves' run
WASHINGTON -- Brian McCann entered the season with the realization that this could be his last with his hometown Braves. If this does indeed prove to be true, he can only hope to add a few more memorable chapters to what has been an incredible journey.
While earning seven All-Star selections and five Silver Slugger Awards through the first eight full seasons of his career, McCann has positioned himself for the big payday that awaits him when he ventures into the free-agent market for the first time this offseason.
But as the Braves near the postseason, McCann does not want to talk about what the future might hold for him. Instead, the veteran catcher chooses to remain focused on his present opportunity.
"This is the most talented team I've been on since I've been here," McCann said. "From top to bottom, all phases of the game -- hitting, starting pitching, bullpen and defense -- I think this is the most complete team. We're in a good spot to do some good things."
With Wednesday night's 5-2 win over the Nationals, the Braves reduced their magic number to two and put themselves on the cusp of winning their first National League East title since capturing their 14th straight during McCann's 2005 rookie season.
As he stands with Tim Hudson as the only remaining players from Atlanta's last division winner, McCann takes great pride in the fact that he has helped play a part in the fostering of the tradition that he celebrated while growing up idolizing Chipper Jones, John Smoltz and the other stars from the most successful era in Braves franchise history.
"It just kind of shows me that time flies," McCann said. "I feel like that last division title was just yesterday. Now you fast forward eight years and we're sitting here talking. It's surreal. Just being able to play for the Atlanta Braves is surreal."
McCann's era in Atlanta began with immediate success. He recorded a hit in his first Major League at-bat and then notched his first career home run while helping Smoltz toss a complete-game gem the following day.
"Today was unbelievable," McCann said after that June 11, 2005, win over the A's. "I got to catch one of my childhood idols."
Smoltz immediately took McCann under his wing and praised the advanced feel for the game displayed by the young catcher. Fittingly, the last of the 15 postseason wins the accomplished Smoltz recorded for Atlanta came courtesy of a two-run home run McCann hit off Roger Clemens in what was his first career postseason at-bat during Game 2 of the 2005 NL Division Series against the Astros.
"I learned so much about how to call a game while working with Smoltz," McCann said. "I was just a sponge. I was listening to everything he had to say. Some of the things he told me back then, I still use today. It was huge to have someone like that in your corner at 21 years old."
While hitting 41 more home runs (176) and totaling 43 more RBIs (660) than any other catcher dating back to the start of the 2005 season, McCann has become widely recognized as one of the game's premier offensive catchers. There is a strong sense that the Rangers, Yankees and possibly a few other American League clubs will make McCann the most significant offers this season.
Regardless, whoever lands McCann will quickly realize his tremendous value extends beyond what he can do with the bat.
"He's one of the best teammates I've ever had," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. "He rakes, yeah, you can see that from his offensive numbers. But he's so smart defensively. He thinks he's a pitcher. He goes out there and wants to get outs and have a nice ERA with the pitcher. There aren't too many times you see an offensive-minded catcher with that kind of mind-set. He's one of our leaders, and we wouldn't be where we are without him."
Most of McCann's inherent skills are a product of being the son of a former collegiate baseball coach. But the time he spent with Smoltz has allowed McCann to provide Atlanta's current staff with an approach and mind-set that provides a link back to the glory days of Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.
"The whole thing about him being smart is about him being prepared," Braves starting pitcher Kris Medlen said. "I think that is a huge job for a catcher to have in the big leagues. I always feel like we're one pitch ahead. It's like we throw one pitch knowing we're going to get that next guy out on the next pitch."
Having been with him each of the past nine seasons, Hudson has seen McCann steadily improve his ability to handle a pitching staff while establishing himself as a quiet leader who has always seemingly had the respect of all of his teammates.
When the Braves did not like the way Jose Fernandez reacted to the first career home run he hit last week, McCann stood at the plate and made sure the Marlins' rookie hurler knew that his act was not appreciated. After the game, McCann also took time to talk to Johnson about the role he might have played in igniting the situation by exchanging words with the young pitcher at the end of the at-bat.
"He's one of those guys that adds to the environment," Hudson said. "He's a piece that makes teams successful -- both in the clubhouse and on the field."