LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Brian McCann still laughs about what transpired as he learned the Braves were calling him up to the Majors during the 2005 season. He remembers being summoned to Brian Snitker's room, where he found the then Double-A manager eating pizza while wearing nothing more than his underwear.
The attire did not stop the two from sharing the brief congratulatory hug that will continue to draw laughs as they spend this season savoring the chance to be reunited. The excitement the All-Star catcher expressed upon rejoining the Braves in November was clearly displayed again when he reported to Spring Training on Friday.
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"I don't know if I've ever been in camp and seen one guy as excited about being here and excited about getting his year going as that man," Snitker said.
As McCann spent the past five seasons playing for the Yankees and Astros, he kept close tabs on the Braves and hoped he'd gain this opportunity to once again play for his hometown team. It's a feel-good story that will prove to be even more memorable if the 34-year-old catcher's surgically repaired right knee does indeed allow him to be a productive asset.
"It's 100 percent," McCann said. "It's better than it has been in probably two or three years."
McCann labored through the pain as he helped the 2017 Astros win a World Series championship, but it became debilitating to the point that he underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He missed two months, played 13 games in September and started just two of Houston's eight postseason games.
A second-deck homer hit against Marco Estrada during a Sept. 24 game gave McCann confidence his knee is past those frustrating days when it routinely collapsed as he completed his swing stride. But the surgery's true benefit was realized this offseason as the veteran catcher was able to complete his normal preseason preparations.
"I got back to lifting weights and squatting and dead lifting and the things I need to do to catch 100 or 115 games," McCann said.
While sharing the catching duties with Tyler Flowers, McCann will not be asked to catch upwards of 100 games, a mark he has not reached since 2015. But regardless of how frequently he is behind the plate, he will have a significant impact on the pitching staff and within the clubhouse of the organization he always longed to rejoin.
"I understand the impact he can have and what he's going to bring to this club," Snitker said of McCann. "I've known this kid his whole baseball life and I know what kind of competitor he is. He loves everything about the game. I think he's really excited right now about where he's at in his career."
Ahead of schedule
Snitker previously indicated he might slowly ease Mike Soroka into action during the upcoming exhibition season. But now that the Canadian right-hander has already completed six pain-free bullpen sessions, the Braves are ready to place the top prospect on a normal schedule as he competes for a rotation spot.
"He's in the program," Snitker said. "He feels good. We're going to [put] him in the program and let everything go."
MLB Pipeline ranks Soroka as the game's 24th-best prospect. The 21-year-old right-hander made five starts for Atlanta before being shut down in late June with a right shoulder ailment that sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Luiz Gohara might not be in the best shape of his life, but the big left-hander is visibly leaner than he was when he reported to last year's Spring Training weighing upwards of 315 pounds. The southpaw has dropped approximately 40 pounds, and he is focused on trying to regain the promise that declined last year as a lost winter led to a pair of Spring Training injuries and a regular season filled with disappointment.
"He looks good and he has a good attitude going so far," Flowers said. "I think that's the big thing for him. There were points last year where he wasn't the normal Luiz."
Gohara no longer ranks among MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects and he won't be surrounded by the hoopla that accompanied his National League Rookie of the Year Award candidacy before last season began. But he certainly has a chance to be an asset in Atlanta's rotation or bullpen this season.