Brian McCann still ‘loves’ Braves, would consider retiring with team

090313 Atlanta: - Braves catcher Brian McCann takes the field for the first inning against the Mets in their MLB baseball game on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, in Atlanta. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM



090313 Atlanta: - Braves catcher Brian McCann takes the field for the first inning against the Mets in their MLB baseball game on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, in Atlanta. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

From baby Brave to World Series champion, Brian McCann has had a rare career that would best any fathomable script. And he didn’t rule out coming full circle.

McCann and the Rally Foundation hosted a Benefit Bash dinner Friday at the Georgia Aquarium, followed by a celebrity charity softball game Saturday. The Astros catcher has been involved with the foundation for a decade, and Friday’s event raised over $1 million for the first time in the organization’s history.

Before greeting guests, McCann spoke with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the foundation, his career and the possibility of retiring with the franchise he still loves.

McCann has come a long way from his Braves days, when in his debut season he homered off Astros legend Roger Clemens in the postseason. Twelve seasons later, McCann was still homering in October, only for those Astros on the biggest stage.

“It feels like it was yesterday, to be honest with you,” McCann said. He recalled his nerves when realizing he was going to catch John Smoltz and face Clemens as a 21-year-old rookie.

He hasn’t had the opportunity to reflect on the most successful season of his career just yet.

“I haven’t had time to take a step back,” he said. “We did a bunch of stuff, got home a couple days ago, came out here for the event. It’ll sink in sooner rather than later, but I haven’t really had the chance to kick my feet up and appreciate it.”

The last calendar year has presented new experiences for McCann. He had been exposed to more consistency than most athletes. He spent 2005-13 with his hometown team. He departed in free agency for the New York Yankees, for whom he would play in 405 games.

McCann found himself in trade rumors for the first time last winter, when the Yankees were shopping him after catcher prospect Gary Sanchez’s breakout season. Houston became the best solution for everybody; perhaps except the Yankees, who were eliminated by the Astros in the American League Championship Series.

“It’s a business,” McCann said. “So you treat it as that, and you’ve got to do what’s best for yourself. I thought going to the Houston Astros was my best opportunity to play and win a world championship. So it worked out.”

That it did. McCann had two RBIs in a 4-0 Game 7 win over the former employer. Charlie Morton, who grew up with McCann in the Braves organization, tossed five shutout innings. Evan Gattis, McCann’s catching mate, who also played with him with the Braves, opened the scoring with a 405-foot homer in the fourth.

A “magical run,” as McCann called it, was capped by winning Game 7 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium. He credited clubhouse camaraderie, and said the team was confident it was a title contender from opening day.

“We had 25 guys who showed up to play baseball every day and truly loved the game and truly loved each other,” he said. “That’s why we were the best team this year.”

Before last season, McCann hadn’t won a playoff series in his career.

“It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever gotten to experience, playing in a World Series,” he said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Now 33, McCann isn’t thinking about retirement. He has another goal or two to take care of first.

“Another ring, and another ring after that,” he said. “The feeling I got this year, I want another chance at it. I want a chance to win another one.”

But when it’s all said and done, McCann would like to retire with his hometown team. He became emotional at the idea, be it for a farewell season or a one-day ceremony.

“One hundred percent,” McCann said when asked if he would want to end his career with the Braves. “One hundred percent. This is my home. I played close to 10 years here. This organization is really, really, really close to my heart. I love this organization.”

McCann offered more on the subject before Saturday’s softball game.

“Listen, I came up through this organization,” he said. “Spent some amazing years (with the Braves). I’ll always be an Atlanta Brave. So I love this organization, and we’ll see what happens in the future. But right now I’m really excited to be a Houston Astro. It’s a great organization.”

If McCann were to return to Atlanta during his playing days, he’d see “Baby Braves,” part 2. McCann’s followed the Braves’ rebuilding process and believes they’re following a blueprint similar to his Astros.

“That’s how you have to win in today’s game,” McCann said. “You have to win with your farm system. You have to win with your prospects and you have to hit on your draft picks. Sprinkle in some veterans. I think that’s the recipe to win in today’s game.

“The Braves will be back sooner rather than later.”

It may not be in uniform, but McCann considers himself forever part of Atlanta. He and his wife, Ashley, still live here, and their bond with the community has never been stronger.

“This is our home,” he said. “This is where we both grew up and went to high school, and we’ll live here forever. This is where our roots are, and we’ll always come back here.”