Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann signs autographs for Braves fans Robbie Miller, 11, Jacob Hales, 15, and Christopher Hutchison, 11, prior to the fourth annual celebrity softball game benefiting the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville on Saturday. McCann and his wife Ashley host the event which includes a softball game, home run derby, running of the bases, and autographs from Atlanta Braves Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Jonny Venters.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Brian McCann has been working to raise money for childhood cancer for most of his big league career.
After becoming a father himself, though, the cause adopted by the Atlanta Braves catcher and Duluth High School alum has become even more personal.
"It's a whole new perspective," McCann said Saturday, at his fourth annual celebrity softball game to raise money for the Rally Foundation.
"Your life changes as soon as you have a kid, and we realized that in July."
Brian and Ashley McCann welcomed son Colt, their first child, into the world on July 13, but the couple has been involved with the Rally Foundation -- which raises money for childhood cancer research -- for six years now.
Since 2005, Rally has awarded more than $3 million in research grants to more than 60 projects nationwide. Friday's banquet, part of the fundraising weekend that included Saturday's softball game at Lawrenceville's Coolray Field, raised more than $500,000.
Brian McCann said he and Ashley became interested in the cause during his second year in Major League Baseball, and never looked back. Agent BB Abbott later helped bring the idea for a benefit softball game to fruition.
"We met some of the kids and that was it," he said. "We wanted to be a part of it."
Saturday's event -- which featured a home run contest and softball game -- brought out some big names from the Atlanta area. Bert Weiss of radio's "The Bert Show," former Atlanta Falcon Chuck Smith and former NFL coach Sam Wyche were among them.
Now-former Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, a sort of co-sponsor of the event, and current Braves reliever Jonny Venters both took part in the festivities as well.
"Childhood cancer is something that afflicts many, many families across America," Jones said, "and if we can do our part to raise a little bit of money, raise some awareness and help find a cure, then we owe it to each other to help do that."
Said Venters: "There were times (Friday) night when we had to hold back tears because it's such an emotional thing to see kids going through that ... It's amazing how strong they are. I'm just glad to be able to be out here and support such a great cause."
Saturday marked the second consecutive year the McCanns' softball game was held at Coolray Field.
During a home run challenge, participants like Jones, Weiss and a few minor leaguers took turns making attempts to launch softballs over a pair of fences -- $100 to the Rally Foundation for shots over the short porch, $300 for homers over the regular outfield fence.
An actual game followed, with "Rally Kids" and paying fans watching from the stands. The weather was much better that last year's version, when a night contest was hampered by 30-degree weather and brutal winds.
Even then, though, the game went on.
"It's a huge part of what we get to do," McCann said. "We have a platform to speak, and my wife and I chose this foundation to support. And like I said, it just keeps getting bigger and better."