Lumbering McCann a team favorite
Young catcher adds rare triple to his array of accomplishments
In today's high-tech world, video of the play gained instant, widespread, on-demand distribution on the Internet. So there was Chipper Jones, doubled over in laughter in the Atlanta dugout, watching Brian McCann run the bases.
Playing against the Florida Marlins last week, McCann sent a shot off the right-field wall at Atlanta's Turner Field and watched the ball bounce away. He trudged around first, heading for second, and then as the ball caromed past Florida right fielder Jeremy Hermida, it occurred to McCann that this might be a landmark moment. And so he took off for third base.
Now he was headed into uncharted territory. McCann, a catcher, runs like, well, a catcher. "I'm every bit as slow as I look," he confided later.
Unaccustomed as he was to this kind of basepath adventure, McCann chugged his way purposefully toward third and completed the journey with a sort of bouncing, belly-flop slide that left Jones in hysterics.
It may not have been a textbook trip around the bases, but when the dust had settled, McCann stood triumphantly at third base, the proud owner of the first triple of his Major League career.
It's not as if he had never hit a three-bagger before. There was one in a Spring Training game against Cleveland last year and two of them when McCann played Double-A ball in Mississippi in 2005. He even hit three triples in his first season of pro ball at Class A Rome. But this was regular-season, big league baseball, a venue where he had never before hit one. It was one more achievement for the Braves home-bred catcher.
The previous absence of three-base hits is no reflection on McCann, one of the best catchers in baseball and a potent bat in the middle of the Atlanta lineup. He is a two-time All-Star and a steadying influence for a Braves pitching staff that has been in flux this season. His career is going exactly the way he dreamed it would when growing up as Braves fan in Athens, Ga., a couple of hours across the state from Atlanta.
McCann had the good fortune to discover baseball and the Braves just as Atlanta's remarkable run of 14 straight division championships began. He imagined himself playing for them one day, and the dream came true.
Atlanta drafted him after he graduated from high school in 2002, and, a year later, he was Player of the Year at Class A Rome of the South Atlantic League. He hit .290 with 12 home runs and 71 runs batted in, and after he had 35 doubles and 16 home runs -- and, yes, two triples -- the next year, he was labeled a legitimate big league prospect.
"[Double-A] is where you prove you can play, where you prove you can hit consistently good pitching," McCann said. "Everybody's good when you get to Double-A. Everybody can throw."
McCann flourished, and by 2005, he was in the Majors, carrying the endorsement of John Smoltz, who asked manager Bobby Cox to have the youngster catch him. Smoltz liked McCann's energy and confidence behind the plate. Cox liked that and most everything else about the young man, including 24 homers in 2006, McCann's first full Major League season. He added 18 more last year.
McCann homered in just his second game with the Braves and became the first player in franchise history to hit a homer in his first postseason at-bat when he connected against Roger Clemens. And this, remember, is the team of Hall of Fame sluggers Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews.
If there was a gap in the catcher's game, it was his lack of speed. His lumbering running style meant extra base hits were limited to doubles and home runs. Now that's changed.
With his first career triple in place, he's honest enough to know that it may be a one-time-only event. "I might never get another one," he said, "So I'm excited."
And the belly-flop slide? Well, somewhere, Pete Rose had to be smiling at that one.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York City.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.