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McCann, fans make most of all-star's return

LAWRENCEVILLE - Mitchel Brown already had a Brian McCann baseball card with a signature, but the 10-year-old wanted something personal from one of his favorite Atlanta Braves.

"This is a fake," he said of the reproduced autograph.

A few minutes later, the youngster from Barrow County had a real signature next to the copied one.

"And he signed a ball, too," said Clint Hilton, Mitchel's 10-year-old friend and neighbor.

Not that many years ago, it was McCann that was seeking autographs. On Thursday night, the Duluth resident was back in Gwinnett County to play an injury rehab game with the Gwinnett Braves as part of his baseball journey.

"I would never have believed I'd be playing in a professional game this close to home," McCann said. "Where I grew up and where I live now isn't even 10 minutes from here."

McCann hasn't played a major league game since April 22 because of blurred vision in this left eye. But his new prescription sports glasses arrived at about 1 p.m. and he had little trouble adjusting to them.

In his first at-bat at Gwinnett Stadium, the left-handed hitter doubled down the right-field line to drive in a quick run against Syracuse and that was just the beginning of a very encouraging outing as the G-Braves defeated the Chiefs 4-0.

McCann, who was robbed of another potential hit, was 1-for-3 with an intentional walk and threw out former Atlanta teammate Pete Orr trying to steal second base to end the third inning. He also made a nice sweep tag on a throw from center fielder Gregor Blanco to nail Syracuse's Kory Casto at the plate in the fourth.

Experiencing no problems with the glasses, McCann will rejoin the Braves in Philadelphia today and expects to be in the lineup in the series opener against the Phillies.

"I'm excited to get back with the team," McCann said of rejoining Atlanta. "I think everything is going to go great."

McCann wore No. 17 - rather than his familiar No. 16 - for the International League game, but no one had any trouble recognizing the three-time National League All-Star catcher.

Although it was an important night for McCann to test out how it would be with his new glasses, he didn't shortchange the fans that had come out for his one-game homecoming.

McCann signed autographs on the stadium concourse for more than 15 minutes, then signed again along the grandstand railing before going to the bullpen to warm up G-Braves starting pitcher Jerome Gamble.

Melissa Weinkle, 26, of Lawrenceville, wore a red McCann jersey to her first G-Braves game and was excited to have him autograph it. "This is really special," she said.

Weinkle had to admit, though, that McCann was actually only her second-favorite Atlanta player behind Kelly Johnson. "But I've never met Kelly," she said. "Now I've met Brian."

McCann's homecoming drew a crowd of 5,107, about 2,000 more than the G-Braves had averaged for weeknight games.

"It was awesome," McCann said about playing so close to home. "I had all my family and friends in attendance, and it was pretty special to come back here. This is a great facility and it's right in my backyard. This is my home."