More seasoned McCann ready for first all-star start

The Associated Press . Atlanta Braves' Brian McCann (16) hits a two-run home run as Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia (9) looks on Wednesday in Atlanta.

The Associated Press . Atlanta Braves' Brian McCann (16) hits a two-run home run as Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia (9) looks on Wednesday in Atlanta.

The question was for Brian McCann, but a smiling Dan Uggla chimed in late last week as he sat in front of the locker next door at Turner Field.

McCann made his all-star debut back in 2006, then a 22-year-old who shared the experience with another all-star first timer, Uggla, then a Florida Marlin. The Atlanta Braves catcher was asked if he was wide-eyed in his first all-star appearance, but Uggla beat him to the answer.

"Pittsburgh," a laughing Uggla said, "We were wide-eyed, man."

McCann, who starts for the National League tonight in his sixth straight all-star game, then started sharing memories from that night five years ago. He was a little-known reserve in those days, the youngest all-star selected for the game.

The Duluth product called it "awesome" to be just a few lockers down from Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols. He was a fan of the Astros' Lance Berkman, an all-star back in 2006, and he got to meet Braves standout Tom Glavine, a New York Met at the time.

"It was a much different feeling from now," McCann said. "I really didn't know anybody. I didn't talk a whole lot. Now I know a lot of people around the league. It's definitely a lot different now. ... It was nerve-racking back then. I just got in there and kept my mouth shut and kind of observed. Just took everything in."

McCann no longer holds that kind of anonymity.

He enters tonight's game as a starter (his first all-star start) and as the reigning MVP after his game-winning hit in the 2010 contest. He is having the best season of an accomplished career, earning the fifth spot in the National League's lineup between the Brewers' Prince Fielder and the Cardinals' Berkman.

He's hitting .310 this season with 15 home runs, 50 RBIs and 15 doubles.

"He's really carried our team in the first half, especially with the way our offense has been struggling," Braves all-star pitcher Jair Jurrjens said. "He's been coming up with big hits and big hits. And he's been calling good games, helping the pitching staff out. We have a lot of young pitchers on this staff and he's been really mature, guiding them through the game. That's why we've been playing so good."

The lefty also has surpassed the Twins' struggling Joe Mauer in some people's eyes as the game's top offensive catcher.

McCann, 27, puts up a pretty good argument with four Silver Slugger Awards already (only eight catchers have ever won four or more). He's averaged 21.4 home runs and 88.6 RBIs the past five seasons, but he's on track to surpass those numbers this season -- and his career season highs of 24 homers and 94 RBIs.

"It's been going good," McCann said. "It's a long season though. The season doesn't end now, but so far, so good. I've just got to keep it up."

A brief respite from the long season comes tonight, which gives McCann a chance to play in front of a large contingent of family and friends. He's bringing a total of eight people to the game, including both he and his wife Ashley's immediate family. His older brother Brad, a former minor-leaguer whose own baseball schedule made it tough to watch his brother play in the past, also is attending for the first time.

The week of fun turns back to work this week for McCann and the second-place Braves, who lead the wild-card race while chasing the first-place Phillies.

"I'm very excited about the second half (of the season)," McCann said. "We knew breaking spring training that we had a good team here. I think we've shown it the first half of the season and I think we're only going to get better."