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David O'Brien

Ruminating on Airstreams and B-Mac’s sweet swing

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DARK STAR, Fla. – Since we’re expecting to see Brian McCann for the second time in four days on Wednesday, when he makes the trip down busy, dinosaur- and RV-lined Interstate 4 to face the Braves at the ballpark on the perimeter of Fun Sector (aka Disney), now would be a good time to make note of the fact that the seven-time NL All-Star and longtime former Brave leads all major league catchers with 171 home runs and 638 RBIs since the beginning of 2006, his first full season in the majors.CORRECTION_Astros_Braves_Ba

What’s that? Oh, the dinosaurs. A reference to Dinosaur World, between Plant City and Tampa on I-4. Not far from the “Airstream Ranch,” an oddity that never ceases to make me turn my head and risk causing a pile-up on I-4 as I drive past and try to figure out why there are seven or eight now-dilapidated Airstream RVs lined up in a row, stuck in the ground front-end first, their back ends sticking straight up in the air. On the way to Clearwater for Braves vs. Phillies or Tampa for Braves vs. Yankees, or to Bradenton or Dunedin any other spring-training site on the Gulf Coast of Florida, I go past those Airstreams and the spectacularly kitschy entrance to Dinosaur World, smile inside, and think, what the …?

Not to mention the countless dealerships selling RVs, and the RV parks, and the mobile-home parks with all their not-mobile doublewide homes.

Oh, and the Water Ski Experience Hall of Fame and Museum, also just off I-4 and also clearly visible as you drive by.

I figure I’ve driven by all of these places and things at least 150-200 times in the past 20 years. I’ve never stopped, not even once, to actually enter one of them, or even stand still for a few minutes to take in the splendor. No, it’s strictly 5-10 seconds, a drive-by, each time passing by each of them, and these places and things fade from my consciousness as quickly as they came in. Spring-training oddities, never to be thought about during the other 10-1/2 months of my life that come closest to normalcy. (And I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who’s actually gone inside the Water Ski Experience, though I have had a few people on Twitter or my blog tell me they’ve done Dinosaur World and that it was quite enjoyable.)

McCann and Craig Kimbrel.

McCann and Craig Kimbrel.

Anyway, B-Mac will be making his way down I-4 in the Yankee team bus with its gold-plated sinks and other bathroom fixtures and the high-def individual video monitors at every seat, and ribeye steaks and lobster for lunch on every trip. (OK, truth: The Yankees bus, as far as I know, has none of that stuff, and is probably no different than any other team bus at spring training.)

McCann already got his hugs and greetings and well-wishing out of the way with his former Braves mates when they played the Yankees over at Steinbrenner Field on Sunday. But he’ll be making his first appearance at Champion Stadium since signing with the Yankees as a free agent over the winter, and will also be seeing some of the Braves clubhouse staff for the first time since he left, and probably a few players who didn’t make the trip to Tampa. So it’s still a thing, at least for this one more game.

And then obviously when he plays in Atlanta it’ll be a big deal, although unfortunately the Braves don’t face the Yankees in interleague play this season, so it’ll be a while and the impact will surely have worn off a little by the time he finally does play a game in the ATL. So for now, this will have to do as far as a Braves “home game” with B-Mac in the visiting dugout.

Oh, and those 171 home runs aren’t just the most among major league catchers since the beginning of 2006, they are the most by a long way. Among those who’ve played at least 75 percent of their games at catcher during that period, the next-highest total is 117 homers by A.J. Pierzynski. And after McCann’s 638 RBIs, the next highest by anyone who played 75 percent or more of his games at catcher in that period is 562 by Joe Mauer.

He hit 20 or more homers seven times in eight seasons, including the past six in a row. He racked up 366 RBIs during his first four full seasons in the majors, in his ages 22-25 seasons. He has a .277 career average and .350 OBP, including three seasons with OBPs of .373 or higher, most recently in 2010 (.375). He’s only struck out as many as 90 times once in eight seasons.

All this from a catcher. A thick-bodied catcher, playing his first eight-plus seasons in the NL, without the regular opportunity to DH or play another position to ease the wear and tear of squatting behind the plate and taking the blows and wearing the gear on so many hot, humid Atlanta days and nights.

I’ve said it before, and will again: If McCann have another five to seven years that are even close to as productive as he’s been so far, he’s got a good chance of being a Hall of Famer someday. And now, as a left-handed hitter with good power playing his home games in Yankee Stadium, which favors left-handed pull hitters, he could have a few 30-homer seasons in him.

In fact, I fully expect him to hit 30-35 homers playing in that ballpark, especially now that he’s had a full year to re-strengthen the shoulder.

McCann probably wasn’t as good a defensive catcher as he was rated by some people, but he wasn’t nearly as bad a defensive catcher as he was rated by some others. He was a strong pitch-framer and had a good way with pitchers, especially as he got older. He had their trust.

He was a terrific teammate, a guy who cared first and foremost about winning, never made excuses or moaned and groaned, and always stood up for his guys — even if that meant standing in the middle of the basepath and making a bit of a scene obstructing the path of a chirping opponent. Or even if it mean not being very tactful about explaining to a slightly overzealous opposing rookie pitcher – a sensational rookie pitcher — that, hey there is a way to do things, and it ain’t the way you just did it.slideshow_1002222200_mccann-allstar-2006

But here’s what McCann was and is, most of all: A hitter. A born hitter. One. Hell. Of. A. Hitter. The proverbial Guy Who Could Fall Out of Bed And Hit After Sleeping All Winter. Not Chipper, no. But for a catcher? Yeah, he was – and I believe still will be – some kind of special hitter.

That beautiful swing will be missed, and perhaps not fully appreciated by some until now that it’s gone and we see it on TV, in pinstripes.

Revised Braves lineup Wed. vs. Yankees

  1. Heyward RF
  2. BUpton CF
  3. Freeman 1B
  4. JUpton LF
  5. Johnson 3B
  6. Uggla 2B
  7. Simmons SS
  8. Lerud C (Gattis in original lineup, batting 4th; scratched due to sore quad)
  9. Hale RHP

Etc. Random stat from the Bill Chuck Files: 

2013: Lowest BAA after 0-2 Counts

PA

P

H

XBH

HR

K

POUT

AVG

1. Jose Fernandez (MIA)

153

343

10

3

1

91

144

.066

2. Jerome Williams (LAA)

133

341

12

5

1

51

117

.094

3. Justin Masterson (CLE)

148

347

14

1

1

83

133

.095

4. Ryan Dempster (BOS)

137

333

13

3

0

65

121

.098

5. Max Scherzer (DET)

197

475

19

7

1

97

175

.099

6. Jeff Locke (PIT)

115

262

12

7

1

46

102

.107

7. Madison Bumgarner (SF)

176

446

18

8

0

91

153

.107

8. Clayton Kershaw (LAD)

235

527

25

3

0

132

208

.108

9. Hiroki Kuroda (NYY)

134

339

15

2

0

59

118

.114

10. Anibal Sanchez (DET)

169

403

19

4

0

91

147

.117

11. Matt Harvey (NYM)

156

392

18

4

1

86

137

.118

12. Yu Darvish (TEX)

180

422

20

3

0

105

153

.118

13. Julio Teheran (ATL)

165

421

19

4

1

81

140

.120

14. Wade Miley (ARI)

153

355

18

4

2

60

132

.122

15. Stephen Strasburg (WSH)

153

390

18

3

2

77

129

.123

16. James Shields (KC)

167

441

20

6

2

75

146

.125

17. Lance Lynn (STL)

220

528

27

9

0

112

187

.127

18. A. J. Burnett (PIT)

191

397

23

6

0

103

161

.128

19. Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE)

172

438

21

6

3

85

146

.129

20. Gio Gonzalez (WSH)

178

474

22

5

1

84

149

.130

And the five highest….

PA

P

H

XBH

HR

K

POUT

AVG

1. Joe Saunders (SEA)

111

319

29

11

3

36

83

.276

2. Kyle Kendrick (PHI)

127

310

29

10

4

45

95

.234

3. Edinson Volquez (LAD)

127

298

28

9

4

55

93

.226

4. Doug Fister (DET)

173

394

37

12

2

66

132

.224

5. Kris Medlen (ATL)

170

400

35

9

3

73

127

.216

• Been a rough and eventful week around Braves camp, what with the rash of (recurring) elbow injuries and forced shuffling of the starting rotation. Losing Kris Medlen is a major blow to the Braves (not to mention to us writers — he’s probably the best quote on the team, and about as cooperative and enjoyable to be around as anyone I’ve had the pleasure of covering).

It’ll be interesting to see how the Braves get through the first weeks of the season with a makeshift rotation, before they start to get newcomer Ervin Santana and a couple of their projected regulars — Mike Minor, Gavin Floyd — into the rotation.

Let’s close with a classic solo gem from ex-Husker Du frontman extraordinaire Bob Mould, which you can hear by clicking here. This is off his Workbook album, the 25th anniversary 2-disc edition of which has played quite a bit in the rental Ford Fusion CD player this spring.

Bob Mould

Bob Mould

“SEE A LITTLE LIGHT” by Bob Mould  

Listen, there’s music in the air
I heard your voice, coming from somewhere
But look how much we’ve grown
I guess I should have known

As the years go by, they take their toll on you
Think of all the things we wanted to do
And all the words we said yesterday
That’s a long time ago
You didn’t think I’d really go, now
Are you waiting? (I know why)
You’re already saying goodbye
Are you ready? (I know why)

I see a little light, I know you will
I can see it in your eyes, I know you still care
But if you want me to go
You should just say so

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