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Smoltz, McCann returning to Classic

Smoltz, McCann returning to Classic

MIAMI -- When Brian McCann arrived in Atlanta, John Smoltz knew his new young catcher was something special. During the span of the two years that have followed, it's become obvious that Smoltz isn't the only big leaguer who recognizes McCann as being one of the National League's finest backstops.

When McCann arrived at Dolphin Stadium on Sunday morning, he was visibly distraught. The expensive watch he thought he'd left in his locker less than 12 hours earlier was missing. For a short time, he began to think he'd never see it again.

But then again, he also thought it would be at least another year before he experienced another All-Star Game.

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Approximately 40 minutes after one of the visiting clubhouse managers located the watch, McCann learned he will be returning to this year's All-Star Game and that he will be joined by Smoltz, who at 40 is the oldest pitcher selected.

"I'm going to go to this one like it's my last one," said Smoltz, who has now been selected to play in eight All-Star Games. "I'll take my son and do the same thing I said I was going to do after the first one, when I said I was going to enjoy it."

When Smoltz made his first All-Star Game appearance in 1989, McCann was a five-year-old kid who was just developing his dream of becoming a big leaguer. Now just 2 1/2 seasons into his Major League career, the Braves' 23-year-old catcher has earned two consecutive All-Star selections.

"I'm happy to be going," McCann said. "But I don't feel like I really deserve it."

As he spoke with the media, McCann lacked expected excitement. His primary reason for saying he didn't deserve it stemmed from the fact that he believed this honor should have definitely gone to Edgar Renteria, who entered Sunday leading all National League shortstops with a .324 batting average and an .887 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage).

Braves manager Bobby Cox said he thought Tim Hudson, Chipper Jones and Renteria all deserved to be on the NL All-Star team. But at the same time, he was happy for both McCann and Smoltz, who also took time to express that he wasn't happy with the fact that his shortstop won't be joining him in San Francisco.

"I feel bad for Edgar," Smoltz said. "It never fails, happens every year. It's just a hard system to get everybody in there. He's certainly ... he's an All-Star."

With every team required to have a representative, the selection process often becomes a numbers game and the selection of NL shortstops was certainly one of the toughest tasks this year. The only ones that were selected to play in this year's game are Milwaukee's J.J. Hardy and Jose Reyes, who was the top vote-getter at his position in fan balloting.

McCann and Smoltz both earned their All-Star selection via the votes cast by fellow NL players. They were the only Braves players selected to play in this year's Midsummer Classic, which will be held on July 10 at San Francisco's AT&T Park.

The 2003 season marked the introduction of the Player Ballot to the All-Star selection process. Each league's players, managers and coaches elect eight position players and eight pitchers from their league. Catchers and infielders who finish in the top two at their position on the Player Ballot, and outfielders among the top six, are assured of making the All-Star Team. In instances where the winners of the Player Ballot are also fan-elected starters, the player with the next highest amount of votes on the Player Ballot makes the All-Star Team. Eight pitchers -- five starters and three relievers -- become All-Stars through the Player Ballot. The manager of each World Series team from the prior season -- in this year's case, Detroit's Jim Leyland and St. Louis' Tony La Russa -- then fills the remaining slots on their respective teams, ensuring that one player from all 30 clubs is named to the All-Star Game.

The 78th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.

Smoltz, who is 9-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 16 starts this year, received the fourth-most votes among NL pitchers in the player balloting. The only hurlers in front of him were San Diego's Jake Peavy, Los Angeles' Brad Penny and Philadelphia's Cole Hamels, none of whom has even celebrated their 30th birthday.

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"When you leave Spring Training, you want to have the best year that you can," Smoltz said. "It's a product of everybody here. As a pitcher, we depend on a lot of people for us to be successful and so the selection is really a product of everybody else doing the job."

While Smoltz's selection came with little surprise, McCann had reason to doubt that he'd be granted a second straight bid. The 23-year-old catcher is hitting .261 with seven homers and 41 RBIs this year. Although those numbers are respectable, they pale in comparison to the ones he posted last year, when a career-high .333 batting average and 24 homers earned him his first Silver Slugger Award.

"I didn't expect to go," McCann said. "I'm not having the best season. My average isn't where it wants to be. But my power numbers are better than they were last year."

When McCann was hit on the left ring finger with a swing at Shea Stadium on April 22, he was hitting .339 and had already compiled 10 extra-base hits in just 62 at-bats. In the 179 at-bats that have followed, he's hit just .235 with 16 extra-base hits (11 doubles and five homers).

Still, even with the length of this drought, which may have been prolonged when he aggravated the finger ailment on May 1, McCann ranks near the top of many statistical categories among NL catchers. His .739 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) and 41 RBIs rank second only to Los Angeles' Russell Martin, who will serve as the NL's starting catcher.

"Mac deserves it," Cox said. "His average is down right now. But for the most part, he's had a solid season."

Smoltz has been battling some tightness in his right shoulder over the past month and his only concern right now are the final two starts he'll make heading into the All-Star break. He's definitely attending, but doesn't know if he'll be available to pitch.

"We'll see how it shakes out," Smoltz said. "I don't know that yet. I'll have to grind in my next two [starts] and see what happens."

Since ending his 3 1/2-year stint as a closer with a return to the starting rotation before the start of the 2005 season, Smoltz has proven both durable and dominant. The 3.22 ERA he's compiled since the start of the 2005 season ranks fourth among all Major League pitchers who have completed at least 500 innings. The 561 1/3 innings that he's totaled ranks sixth.

Thus, it's not too surprising to realize that this is his second All-Star selection in a three-season span.

"It's gratifying, but it's [based on] just half of a season," Smoltz said. "So you want to duplicate that same kind of second half."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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