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Francoeur, McCann participate in first major league season opener

ATLANTA

Sometimes it might be easy to forget just how far local baseball stars Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur have come in a year.

Monday definitely wasn't one of those times.

Because Monday was the first, but almost certainly not the last, home opener the two Gwinnett County products played in an Atlanta Braves uniform.

"I've waited for this for a long time," McCann said before Monday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies. "It's what I've always wanted to do. I'm real excited."

Last year at this time, McCann and his roommate Francoeur were getting ready to play a home opener for another team - the Class AA Mississippi Braves in Pearl, Miss.

If Monday proved one thing, it's that Pearl is a long way from Atlanta. Not just for the players, but for the parents as well.

"It's neat to think that a year ago we were making plans to drive to Mississippi," said Dave Francoeur. "And we drove down there with the McCanns."

"And we had a really fun time," chimed in Sherry McCann from the row directly in front.

But not as much fun as they were having on Monday.

Both McCann and Francoeur played numerous home games in their rookie seasons in 2005, so the sight of seeing them actually swinging at pitches in Turner Field is nothing new for their parents.

But there's only one opening night.

Last year, Francoeur was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, hit some towering home runs and finished third in the National League in outfield assists and Rookie of the Year voting. Last season, McCann got two hits in his first game, hit a home run the next day and then drilled two home runs in the postseason against the Astros.

Already at the age of 22, the two friends and roommates have been through, and accomplished, quite a bit.

Until Monday though, they had never experienced an opening day in Atlanta.

"For me, it means a lot," Francoeur said. "I'm just hoping to get it going and leave that road trip behind."

That road trip the Parkview grad is referring to was last week, when the Braves played a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and a four-game set against the San Francisco Giants.

In those seven games, Francoeur batted just .069 with no extra base hits and two RBIs.

"It just feels good to be back home," he said. "And I've still got 600 more at-bats this season. A lot of people go through this, they just might do it in the middle of the season and you don't even notice it.

"I'm just ready to get it going."

McCann's already got it going. The Duluth grad has had much more success at the plate than Francoeur over the first week.

The lefty-swinging catcher hit two home runs on the road trip, ripped two doubles and was hitting .250 with three RBIs heading into Monday night.

"I feel good," McCann said, before adding with a laugh: "But it's a long season."

And if everything goes right, a long career.

There may come a time, when they're both grizzled veterans, where opening day loses its luster for both McCann and Francoeur. And their parents, too. Monday wasn't one of those times.

"There's going to be some nerves," McCann said. "It's my first opening day, so I'm real excited."

Said his mom: "Opening day is something you don't miss ... I got here early and was walking around taking pictures. Last year, I was here at all the games, but this is (different).

"I even wore my opening day vest."