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McCann thrilled to play with idols

McCann thrilled to play with idols

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Brian McCann left for a 10-game road trip with the Braves on June 27, his plan was to arrive back in Atlanta in the wee hours of Monday morning and immediately head to either Hilton Head, S.C., or Destin, Fla., for a short beach vacation with his fiancée.

While a few days of sand and sun certainly would've been relaxing, they wouldn't have provided him the lifetime memories that he'll gather over the next two days, while enjoying his second All-Star Game selection with two of his boyhood idols, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr., as his National League teammates.

"It's going to be cool just to see how they go about it," McCann said. "They might be the best two players of all time."

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Before the start of Monday morning's media session at a downtown San Francisco hotel, both Griffey and Bonds made their way over to McCann to say hello and congratulate him on a second consecutive All-Star selection.

"I was nervous," McCann said. "I didn't really know what to do."

There was a time during McCann's youth that he imitated Griffey's picturesque left-handed swing.

"When I was nine, 10 and 11 years old, that's how I swung the bat," said McCann, whose mechanically-sound left-handed swing has developed into one that is now much more compact. "My stance was just like [Griffey's]. I didn't hit like him, my stance was like him. There's a big difference."

With his .262 batting average being much different than the .343 one that he possessed at last year's All-Star break, McCann had legitimate reason to believe he'd be spending this week in the sun and not back amongst the game's greatest players.

But even though injuries have prevented him from matching the consistency that he enjoyed last year, his peers still view him as one of the game's best. With this being just his second full Major League season, the 23-year-old catcher has the honor of knowing that both of his All-Star selections have come courtesy of the ballots cast by other players from around the National League.

"He's one of the best catchers in baseball, not just the National League," said Mets third baseman David Wright, who is also enjoying his second career All-Star selection. "The way he handles pitchers, his offensive and defensive abilities, when you put it all together, without a doubt he deserves to be here. There will be a lot more of these to come for him."

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With John Smoltz's sore right shoulder preventing him from attending, McCann finds himself as the only Braves representative this week in San Francisco. While appreciative of the opportunity, he still feels it's one he should at least be sharing with some of his other Atlanta teammates.

"Edgar [Renteria] not being here is really, really weird," McCann said. "He's probably put up the best numbers of any shortstop. Chipper [Jones] is having a great year. It's weird being the only one out here when I'm not having as good of a season as some of my teammates."

When McCann bruised his left ring finger on April 22, he was hitting .339 and seemingly had picked up where he left off last year, when he earned his first Silver Slugger Award. Over the course of the next 42 games, he refused to blame his inconsistencies on his health. But the .229 batting average that he produced during that span signaled something was definitely wrong.

"I've been banged up a little bit this year," McCann said. "But that's part of the game. There aren't too many times you're going to go out there 100 percent. It's not the injuries that have caused my average to sit at .260. It's just that I haven't been able to get anything going."

The end of that 42-game span came on June 17, which was Father's Day. After returning from Cleveland that evening, McCann visited his father, Howie, a former Division I collegiate coach, who continues to serve as a hitting instructor in suburban Atlanta.

While some mechanical adjustments were made, the meeting was one in which a son simply wanted to benefit from the encouraging and supportive words that only a father can provide.

In the 17 games that have followed that session, McCann has hit just .259. But he's also compiled five of the nine homers that he's hit this season. His two-hit performance in Sunday night's win over the Padres included a two-run homer off another of his boyhood favorites, Greg Maddux.

"I just haven't been able to stay consistent. It's been a battle to go out there every day and get two hits," McCann said. "Hopefully I can work the second half to get my average up. There's always two parts to a season."

When McCann got to San Francisco late Sunday night, his fiancée and parents were proudly waiting to celebrate this experience with him.

"I'm going to take it all in," McCann said. "You don't know how many of these you're going to be able to come to."

This was part of the advice he received from his father, who has seen his son evolve from a kid that swung like Griffey Jr. into a man, who now has the enviable honor of sharing one of the game's biggest stages with the legends he once emulated.

"My dad said the same thing he said last year which was, 'Take it all in, have fun and get me some free stuff,'" McCann said.

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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