The Braves got to see their former catcher, minus the beard but with some new pinstripes, on Sunday as they traveled down Interstate 4 to face McCann and the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. McCann came out to visit with his former team around the cage during batting practice, hugging and chatting with his old teammates and coaches.
"Just to see the guys, that's what I was looking forward to the most," said McCann, who spent nine years in the Majors with the Braves. "The whole experience today was surreal. I got a lot of friendships over there. I came in as an 18-year-old kid and kind of turned into a man in that organization. They taught me how to play the game of baseball and I'll be forever in debt to them. I loved my time there."
McCann signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the Yankees over the winter to be their starting catcher. He got to work almost immediately, watching videos on an iPad of his new pitching staff and the American League East hitters they'll face. After spending his entire career with one organization, he's still getting used to his new surroundings, including his new batterymates.
That's the reason McCann was starting behind the plate against the Braves on Sunday, as it turns out. He was initially slated to take part in New York's split-squad trip to Panama to honor retired Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, but the Yankees wanted him to work more with Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda. As consolation prizes go, the reunion wasn't such a bad one.
"I've got lifelong friends [with the Braves] that I'll be talking to when I'm 70 years old," McCann said after the Yankees' 7-3 victory over the Braves. "Today was special for me just because I got to see the guys that I played with for a long, long time."
McCann has been following the Braves through the news and occasional text-message exchanges with his former teammates, and he'll see more of them Wednesday when he makes the trip to Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., to work with Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova. Hearing the news about Atlanta pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy potentially missing the season with Tommy John surgery understandably upset him.
"That's hard to swallow," McCann said. "When you're friends with guys like that ... I know the process it takes to get back on the field. For it to happen again, my heart goes out to both of them."
Braves right-hander Julio Teheran said it was strange to see McCann walk into the batter's box while he was on the mound, but he didn't have time for pleasantries the first time he faced his old catcher. McCann came to the plate in the first inning with one out and runners on the corners, and Teheran wound up striking him out.
"It was a little emotional," Teheran said. "I tried to strike him out and that's what I did. ... I know him, and I feel comfortable pitching at him."
"It was weird seeing him in a different uniform," added Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez. "It is what it is. It's a business. The New York Yankees got a good player. They got a good player on their club. You just wish him the best."
McCann made it clear that he wishes the same for the Braves. But he's ready to move on, too. He and his wife, Ashley, found a place outside New York City, somewhere with a yard where their kids can run around and play. He's excited about playing in a division full of hitters' parks instead of the NL East's pitchers' yards.
Still, putting on the Yankees pinstripes for the first time felt "different," McCann admitted, and he's not totally used to the clean-shaven look. As much as he's looking forward to the next chapter of his career, he'll always have fond memories of the organization he grew up with.
"The Atlanta Braves are a big part of my life, and I'm forever going to be grateful for everything they did for me," McCann said. "To be able to play against them and see some old faces is great."