Brian McCann wasn't born in a batting cage, but the newest Yankees catcher was raised in one.
After Brian's father, Howie, resigned as Marshall University's baseball coach in 1995, the family relocated to the Atlanta area. But because Brian's older brother Brad wanted to finish the school year in West Virginia, only Howie and Brian, then 12 years old, went ahead.
Their home was a baseball facility.
Howie had landed a job as a hitting instructor at Al Goetz's complex, The Ballpark, in Duluth, Ga., and Goetz said he agreed to let Howie and Brian live in his office for a few months until they found something more permanent.
In a recent telephone interview with Newsday, Goetz recalled that McCann back then was "a little chubby" and "not that athletic." So Goetz didn't exactly look at young Brian and think to himself, "There's a future major-leaguer right there." But the son of the longtime college baseball coach did have something going for him, and that memory has stuck with Goetz all these years.
"The one thing he could do," he said, "was hit."
Nearly two decades have passed, and not much has changed.
McCann's track record as a pure hitter, proven during his eight full seasons with the Atlanta Braves, is the primary reason the Yankees have agreed to pay him $85 million over the next five years, with a vesting option for a sixth year, in a contract that became official this past week.
The Yankees introduced McCann on Thursday at Yankee Stadium, where his lefthanded swing figures to fit in well. The seven-time All-Star has averaged 21 home runs a season with the Braves, and it's reasonable to envision that number jumping into the 30s because of Yankee Stadium's short rightfield porch.
Last season McCann had 20 homers and 57 RBIs in 102 games (356 at-bats). He missed the first month while recovering from right shoulder surgery performed in the offseason.
Considering that Yankees catchers totaled eight home runs last season, which ranked last in the majors, the pop in McCann's bat will be a most welcome addition to the middle of the lineup.
On the YES Network last week, Mark Teixeira, who was McCann's teammate for a year and a half in Atlanta, called him "a perfect fit for our stadium." Another former Braves teammate, John Smoltz, told ESPN Radio, "There's no doubt he loves to pull the ball."
The Yankees also are getting a player who caught national attention in September for playing a leading role in two bench-clearing brawls two weeks apart.
Unhappy that Miami's Jose Fernandez and Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez took extra-long glances at their home runs against the Braves -- and that Gomez did quite a bit of yelling as he rounded the bases -- McCann jawed at each player.
In the case of Gomez, the clearly heated McCann stood in front of the plate and yelled at him, blocking his path.
Those who know McCann say those incidents were out of character for him. Teixeira described him as "a nice guy, a fun guy" and Smoltz called him "a very gentle guy." And although McCann was viewed as the Braves' de facto clubhouse leader after Chipper Jones retired, he was considered someone who led by example, Goetz said, "not a rah-rah guy."
Those attributes lead Teixeira to believe McCann will easily adapt to New York City and the Yankees' clubhouse even though he is leaving the city he's called home since 1995, the year he moved into Goetz's baseball facility with his dad.
Goetz also doesn't think McCann will have a problem making the transition, and you might say he would have as good a read on McCann's situation as anyone would. And not just because he let the McCanns live in his office for a few months 18 years ago.
A few years after that, the Braves hired Goetz as a local scout, and it just so happened that was the same year that McCann graduated from high school. By then the chubby kid he remembered had grown into his body and continued to improve as a hitter, so Goetz said he pleaded with the Braves to draft him, which they did in the second round.
In 2007, a few years after McCann had established himself in the majors, Goetz left the Braves' scouting department to become an agent. Now he works for the firm that represents -- you guessed it -- Brian McCann. (And Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler, too.)
"I was just talking to Brian after he got the deal done, and I said it's been a long road from The Ballpark," Goetz said. "We've been linked together for some time."
The reason Goetz thinks McCann will thrive in New York is that he said he doesn't get distracted by things that occur away from the ballpark, which can be overwhelming for players in New York.
McCann's focus, he said, is on baseball -- and only baseball.
"The best thing about Brian McCann is that he hasn't changed," Goetz said. "He had a pretty good contract with Atlanta so he's made some money, and that hasn't changed him. I've been around [major league] baseball for 14 years and I don't think I've ever seen a guy never change who he is . He's real.
"For Brian, it's all about baseball."