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McCann's spring brightened by two tiny reasons

Premie twin boys, Christian and Kane leave ICU just in time to join he, wife Jessica, in Lakeland
MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The drive from Nashville to Florida usually takes around 10 hours, depending on traffic around Atlanta. For James and Jessica McCann and their infant twin boys, Sunday's journey to Spring Training was a longer trek in every sense.

"A 10-hour drive turned into about 15-16 hours with stopping to feed and get them situated," McCann said, "but they did great."

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The drive from Nashville to Florida usually takes around 10 hours, depending on traffic around Atlanta. For James and Jessica McCann and their infant twin boys, Sunday's journey to Spring Training was a longer trek in every sense.

"A 10-hour drive turned into about 15-16 hours with stopping to feed and get them situated," McCann said, "but they did great."

But it was the happiest, longest drive for the Tigers catcher. Compared with the daily commute he was making to see them every day for most of the offseason, it was easy.

For seven weeks, McCann made the 35-minute drive back and forth from their new home in Nashville, Tenn., to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where newborns Christian and Kane McCann were in the neonatal intensive care unit. He dropped off his wife in the morning, drove home, worked out according to his offseason training program, then drive back to the hospital.

They'd stay late at night, make the 35-minute drive back home, try to sleep, then do it all over again the next day.

"I have to give credit to my wife," McCann said Tuesday as he unpacked at the Tigertown complex. "I would get up and go work out. She would get up and go to the hospital. She'd spend from 8 a.m., 9 a.m. until 10, 11 o'clock at night at the hospital, eating hospital food, being there for the babies. She was really a saint through the entire process. The baseball part of it didn't change."

It wasn't the way they envisioned parenthood. The original due date for the twins was supposed to be this week. When it became clear the babies were going to beat that, the goal was around New Year's Day, the 34-week mark of the pregnancy. When James and Jessica went to the hospital on Dec. 4, it became more urgent.

"We fully expected her to be in there for at least two weeks," he said. "The next morning they came in, did the monitoring, and shortly thereafter the doctor came in and said, 'You have a C-section tomorrow at 9 a.m.'"

With that, everything changed. Jessica eventually left the hospital, but the twins needed a lot more care. Days turned to weeks, and the offseason became one of the most stressful times of his life, wondering if he might have to go to Spring Training without them.

And yet, as they made the daily commute, they didn't need to look far in the NICU for perspective.

"Every time that we started to feel sorry for ourselves or started to get overwhelmed by the situation, all you had to do was look to the babies next door, or the babies down the hall, what those parents were going through," he said. "We had two early babies. They had about as smooth of a stage as you could possibly have, and we were very blessed."

Baseball workouts, were one of the rare distractions for him. Teammate Daniel Norris made the four-hour drive from his home in Johnson City, Tenn., to throw a bullpen session to him and stayed with them for a little while.

"It was kind of a way to get away from the seriousness of everything that was going on," James McCann said.

While teammates returned to Detroit for TigerFest last month, Christian and Kane finally made the trip home two weeks ago, allowing James and Jessica to feel like full-time parents.

 

"As crazy as it sounds, because now we're on 24-hour duty instead of just the 10-hour window we were there, it's easier," he said, "because you're not trying to rush to get all your time in with them. You get to actually spend quality time."

He was readying for the prospect of being apart once again when a follow-up visit with their pediatrician last week brought more good news: The kids were cleared to travel. Instead of leaving the family in Nashville, he'd be taking them along. And instead of just packing his catching gear, he was packing for four.

"It's not just my stuff anymore. It's everyone's stuff," he said. "A little bit more than baseball gear and some shirts."

The start of camp means he's no longer on night duty when the babies cry. But when he's done with his morning workouts at the ballpark, he reports home for afternoon fatherly duties. It's a grind, but he's thankful for it.

"It was just unbelievable how everything happened, but at the end of the day, God really took care of us," he said. "We couldn't be more blessed as far as the timing for them being able to come home and then being approved to come down here. Everything worked out perfect."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, James McCann