ATLANTA - Brian McCann celebrated a birthday earlier this month.
Not the traditional kind; he turned 22 in February.
Instead, Atlanta's young catcher turned a year old in terms of big-league experience June 10.
The Braves were struggling when McCann arrived in Atlanta last year. But that was nothing compared to the crater in which the team is currently residing.
McCann has been essentially the only bright spot in the Braves' 2006 slide - 17 losses in 20 games, 10 of 11 and seven in a row for the first time since 1990. Atlanta (30-40) is in last place in the National League East.
Given those facts, Chipper Jones said this past week that very few Braves could feel comfortable with their performances so far this season. It's safe to say McCann is happy with his.
The native of Duluth, in Atlanta's northeast suburbs, is hitting .356, has dramatically improved himself defensively and provides a quiet, energetic target that the Braves' pitching staff loves to see behind the plate.
In 108 games since his debut, just shy of how many an everyday catcher would play in a season, McCann is hitting .313 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI.
And it's hard to forget when McCann crushed a three-run shot off Roger Clemens to power the Braves to a Game 2 win against Houston in the National League Division Series.
"I never thought it'd be like this, this early," McCann said. "It's just everything that's going on - being able to play in my hometown where I grew up, getting to see my parents every day. I couldn't have written a better story for me."
The Braves took something of a chance on McCann in the off-season, dealing All-Star catcher Johnny Estrada to Arizona to pave the way for McCann's daily presence in the lineup.
Estrada was coming off a lingering back injury, but the message was clear: McCann was their guy.
And so far, right fielder and longtime friend Jeff Francoeur said, it has proved to be the correct move for the team.
"The Braves had faith in him to make him the starter, and he's showing them he can do it and be that kind of guy, be an All-Star," Francoeur said. "I think he'll do great things."
Reach R. Travis Haney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A SOLID YEAR
Brian McCann made his debut with the Atlanta Braves on June 10, 2005. His first year on the job has gone well:
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