Braves' McCann gets those fan flashbacks

NL notebook


Every rookie experiences it.

Stepping into a major league clubhouse, looking around and seeing the players you grew up watching.

Within in a few days or weeks, though, the feeling normally wears off.

Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann has been a major leaguer for more than a year. And the kid who grew up as a Braves fan in Duluth, Ga., acknowledges that he still occasionally has a flash of awe.

"Every time I catch John Smoltz, I still look out there and it's weird every time," McCann said.

McCann remembers his first meeting with Smoltz. He was in seventh grade and had a snapshot taken while standing next to the Braves ace.

"I was short and chubby and I took a picture with him," McCann laughed.

And now he's Smoltz's battery partner. He's also one of the game's best up-and-coming catchers, making the All-Star Game in this, his first full season. Although he lost a few weeks to an ankle injury, he has been a main cog in the Braves' improbable recent surge, batting .351 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs in his first 70 games.

So the Braves fan is helping the Braves. But he tries not to think about that.

"It is a job and you have to go out there and put all that behind you and produce," he said.

Nice trade

Josh Beckett just signed an extension with the Red Sox and Mike Lowell is having a comeback year at Fenway Park, but don't think this winter's deal with Boston didn't mean a boon for the Florida Marlins.

Shortstop Hanley Ramirez, 22, was the key to the trade (which also eventually yielded Boston reliever Guillermo Mota, now with the Cleveland Indians). And Ramirez hasn't disappointed, with nine homers, 27 stolen bases and solid defense this season.

But the real steal may be 22-year-old right-hander Anibal Sanchez. He's 3-0 with a 3.41 ERA in five games with the Marlins, including an 18-inning scoreless streak. He's not physically imposing and doesn't throw particularly hard, but he has good command and confidence. The latter was obvious when he won his major league debut at Yankee Stadium on national TV.

And the trade could pay more dividends in years to come. In the deal, the Marlins also acquired 22-year-old relievers Harvey Garcia, who has 14 saves and a 3.06 ERA for Single-A Jupiter, and Jesus Delgado, who has struck out 40 batters in 38 1/3 innings and posted a 2.58 ERA for Jupiter.

Earthy Giants

For the second year in a row, San Francisco's AT&T Park was named the most "vegetarian-friendly ballpark" by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The Giants' home park offers several vegetarian dishes, including Gardenburgers, veggie hot dogs and edamame (boiled soybeans).

The only East Coast stadiums to make the top 10 were Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Quick hits

HBO is preparing a documentary on the Chicago Cubs and their diehard fans to run in September, when Cubs fans will have little else to watch. ... Thursday marked the 30th anniversary of Hank Aaron's 755th and final homer. ... Chris Carpenter is the only current St. Louis Cardinals starter signed through this season.

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