This isn’t a fluke. Despite their issues with the Florida Marlins during the past two games at Turner Field, including a 10-4 clubbing Wednesday night, the Braves will remain vibrant in the National League East. For instance: You already know Brian McCann is good, but he actually is better than that.
We’re talking much better. So much so that Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez sat in the home clubhouse shrugging over McCann’s present before grinning over his future.
McCann’s present is wonderful, by the way, and Perez acknowledges that, but here’s the deal: “He’s going to learn more and more and more,” said Perez, a catcher for 20 years in the pros, including 18 with the Braves. “He’s already an All-Star at catcher, but if he keeps doing what he’s doing every year, he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame. Easy.”
See, I told you. Better yet, consider the evidence, starting with McCann doing the unprecedented by making the All-Star Game during each of his first three full seasons. This is his fourth, and he continues to hit better in the clutch and just in general than his catching peers. His throwing keeps improving, too. He also calls a game so well that Jair Jurrjens joins other Braves pitchers in rarely shaking off McCann’s pitch suggestions.
“Maybe twice a game,” said Jurrjens, which means McCann is flirting with greatness. That is, if he isn’t already there for his age.
Just don’t say any of this too loudly around McCann, the Duluth kid, who always is a compliment away from a blush. “I don’t even like to have my name mentioned in the same breath as those other guys until I’ve done it for at least six to eight years,” said McCann, referring to guys such as Johnny Bench and Gary Carter, the only other catchers to join McCann with two seasons of 20 or more homers before age 25.
Bench and Carter are in Cooperstown, and whether you’re talking about Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra or the rest, Bench is the king of them.
So this is significant: Before McCann’s first All-Star Game appearance three years ago in Pittsburgh, The Man himself came strolling McCann’s way near the batting cage. The closer Bench came, the more McCann wondered if his head would burst from anticipation.
“I was blown away,” said McCann, who was on the verge of becoming even more mesmerized by catching royalty. That’s because Bench had a message for McCann, and it was wonderfully simple. “He told me that he watches the games that I played, and he has continued to give me a lot of publicity, you know,” said McCann, in his gee-whiz tone. “He just said, ‘Keep working hard, and you look great.’ He also said he likes the way I swing the bat.”
Who wouldn’t? Then again, that prolific hitting has overshadowed McCann’s improved catching. Which brings us to one of the primary reasons why he lost 20 pounds by pushing away his bad-eating habits for 3½ months. He wished to have more mobility behind the plate. He wanted to keep improving.
He knew Bench would be watching, along with history.