McCann's time to shine

PITTSBURGH - First he was in the shadow of the older brother. Then his longtime roommate.

But now, finally, it's his time to stand in the spotlight.

Brian McCann, our Brian McCann from right here in Gwinnett County, will take the field tonight in the Major League Baseball All-Star game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Just 13 months after getting called up to the major leagues, and in his first season as a full-time starter, the Duluth grad will be standing on the same stage as Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz.

"I've never even dreamed about making the All-Star team," said McCann, at 22 the second-youngest player in Atlanta history to make the All-Star team. "So going in my second year is something that I'll never forget. I'm going to cherish every moment of it."

When he was a junior in high school, McCann was very well respected around the county but didn't get quite the attention that his older brother Brad - currently a first baseman in the Marlins' organization - did during his senior year.

And even though he had a spectacular senior season, the younger McCann didn't get nearly the accolades and fanfare that Jeff Francoeur did while leading Parkview to a second straight state title.

Then came last year. Even though McCann beat his best friend to the Major Leagues by three weeks, Francoeur made such an incredible splash with the team, the league and the city when he arrived in July that McCann was again lost in his shadow a little bit.

It was Francoeur who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was the one who was talked about on "Baseball Tonight," and he was the one who instantly became the new Golden Boy of the organization.

Meanwhile, McCann continued to hit well and play solid defense during his rookie season, it was just done in relative obscurity.

Well, there's no such obscurity now. Not anymore.

McCann has solidified himself as one of the top catchers in all of baseball.

"In high school all the publicity Jeff got he deserved 100 percent," McCann said. "And my brother the same thing. For me to get lost in the shuffle - which didn't completely happen, I did get some publicity - but stuff like that I don't get consumed with. Because once you go in between the white lines, none of that matters. All that matters is performing."

For his part, Francoeur couldn't be happier for his roommate and friend.

"Oh, it's great," said the fellow 22-year-old, who is not having too bad a year either with 17 home runs and 63 RBIs at the break. "And the way he's been playing this year, he shouldn't just be in the All-Star game, he should be starting the All-Star game with the numbers he's put up.

"And I think he'll continue to do this for a long time. He's learned how to hit."

Has he ever.

McCann is currently hitting .343 for the Braves with six home runs and 29 RBIs, despite missing almost three weeks with a severe ankle injury.

Future All-Star berths may be in his future, but McCann is taking nothing for granted. He's going to make sure to soak up the entire experience.

"I'm going to cherish every moment of it," McCann said. "You never know, it may be my last one."

Said former Braves All-Star and Fox announcer Ron Gant: "All of these players that are the best players in the game are there and it's kind of overwhelming. But the advice I got was to just have fun and enjoy talking to the guys and even pick their brains a little bit."

His batting average has garnered McCann much of his attention. His sweet left-handed swing has vaulted him near the top of the league batting leaders, although he falls just shy of the number of at-bats to qualify.

But it's not just McCann's high average that's so impressive, it's that he's putting up such numbers at the most grueling position on the field.

"It's the hardest job in all of baseball," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "To me, there's something to be said about that, squatting down and getting hit on the fingers or worse - and still hitting."

It was Cox who actually got to tell McCann he had made the All-Star team.

With the catcher icing his ankle on the trainer's table before last Sunday's game, the veteran manager came in and told him the news.

It was a great moment for McCann, and it wasn't too bad for the grizzled manager either.

"That's a fun time," Cox said. "Everybody around here thought he should be on it, but you never know. But yeah, it was a special feeling for me and him."

After hearing the news, McCann called his dad right away.

Much like the one he made last June to tell his father, Howie, and mother, Sherry, that he had been promoted to the big leagues, this was a call that McCann and his dad, a respected hitting instructor, would remember for the rest of their lives.

"He was more pumped about it than I was," McCann said. "He was so excited. I can feel him smiling every time I go on a baseball field, so I could only imagine exactly what he was feeling (when I told him I made the team)."

Said his mom, Sherry: "It doesn't seem real. It really doesn't seem real ... Brian has always made all-stars and he's always made all-tournament teams.

"But this is the ultimate. It's the ultimate."

Though he didn't like to admit it, McCann was genuinely nervous about the All-Star selection last Sunday. He says he didn't really start thinking about the possibility of being chosen to the team until he was repeatedly asked about it by reporters.

And when it came right down to it, he wanted badly to make the squad. After all, who wouldn't?

"I really wanted to make it," McCann said, "but at the same time it wasn't the only thing consuming my life. We were struggling here as a team and I was trying to focus on winning ball games."

Said Francoeur: "He really wanted it, you could tell. He's kind of an even-keel guy, but inside and once he got around family and friends he was pumped up to be on it."

McCann's expectations coming into the 2006 season were a bit more subdued.

"When I found out Johnny (Estrada) was traded, my first thought was I was going to be the opening-day catcher," McCann said. "But then right away I thought, I've got to help this team win and not just hide behind Chipper and Andruw and guys like that.

"That was my main focus, to not just get lost in the shuffle and be an average hitter and an average catcher."

He certainly doesn't have to worry about that anymore.

Or those pesky shadows either.

Because tonight Brian McCann, our Brian McCann, isn't Brad's little brother. And he's not Jeff Francoeur's roommate.

Tonight Brian McCann is a Major League All-Star.

"I'm glad I'm going to the All-Star game and people will know who I am," McCann said. "I can't wait, to be honest with you.

"It's a dream come true."