Like most kids growing up in Georgia in the 1990s, Brian McCann rooted for the Atlanta Braves. How could he not? They were his hometown team.
McCann was 11 years old in 1995 when those Braves won the World Series. David Justice hit the Series-clinching home run in Game 6 against Cleveland, and Tom Glavine allowed just one hit over eight innings.
That team had an stellar pitching rotation of Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, all future Hall of Famers. They had sluggers like Justice, Fred McGriff and Ryan Klesko, who could hit baseballs great distances.
And they had Chipper Jones.
Jones was in his first full season that year, coming back from a torn-up knee that cost him the previous season. He hit 23 home runs and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year Award balloting. In the postseason, he had 13 hits. He was developing into a star, and all the time, young Brian McCann was watching.
"I was a fan, a big fan," McCann said. "I remember watching him go deep to left-center field all the time. I remember thinking, 'I want to be just like him.'"
Seven years after the Braves won the 1995 World Series, McCann had blossomed into a prospect. The Braves, always diligent about finding local talent, liked what they saw and made him a second-round pick in the 2002 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
"I happened to get drafted by my hometown team," he said.
And when he got to the Majors in 2005, there was Chipper Jones, a cornerstone of the team.
"When I got a chance to play with him, that was amazing," McCann said. "Everything I worked for was coming true."
Now, Jones is in his final year with the Braves. During Spring Training, he announced that he would retire following the 2012 season. And when that happens, McCann will be one of the veteran presences on a roster has turned over in the last few years.
"It will be different when he's gone, that's for sure," McCann said. "Obviously, he's been here about 20 years. He was the face of the franchise. He's had an amazing career."
McCann is well on his way to one of his own.
He homered in his second big league game and also homered in his first postseason at-bat. He quickly became Smoltz's personal catcher, and the next year, he was the Braves' full-time backstop.
From 2006 through 2011, McCann led all Major League catchers with 131 home runs and 326 extra-base hits. He had his 200th career double last September and is a perennial All-Star with six straight appearances, the only Atlanta player to play in an All-Star Game in each of his first six Major League seasons. He was named Most Valuable Player in 2010 when his bases-clearing double drove in all three runs in a 3-1 NL victory. He led all NL catchers with 24 home runs and was second with 71 RBIs last season. In 2011, he also won his fifth Silver Slugger award, one of just six catchers to accomplish that feat.
About the only problem McCann has encountered in his Major League career is an on-and-off issue with his eyes. There have been two Lasik surgeries and a time when he wore glasses under his catcher's mask to correct a peripheral vision problem.
He had no vision problems in a game last May, when he came off the bench to hit a pinch-hit home run to tie a game against Houston in the bottom of the ninth inning, and then he won the game with another home run in the 11th, ending a 25-game, 90-at-bat long-ball drought. McCann was the second player in Major League history to hit a pinch-hit, game-tying homer in the ninth and an extra-inning walk-off homer in the same game.
Chipper Jones never did that.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.