by Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Kyle McCann has always considered himself a home run hitter and has displayed his power to Georgia Tech fans and fans throughout ACC country the last two years.
On Saturday night he’ll do it for the entire country.
The Yellow Jackets’ power-hitting catcher/first baseman is one of six college sluggers that will take aim at the fences of TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in the 2018 College Home Run Derby, to be shown live on ESPN2, beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
McCann will compete against Florida sophomore outfielder Wil Dalton, Clemson sophomore shortstop Logan Davidson, Ole Miss sophomore catcher/outfielder Thomas Dillard, Austin Peay sophomore infielder Parker Phillips and Air Force junior infielder Nic Ready.
“I’m very excited to go out there and show everyone what I’ve got,” said McCann, who got the news of his invitation in a phone call from Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall while he was up in Chatham, Mass. where he’s playing in the Cape Cod League. “I was shocked. When he told me I was very excited to hear that.”
The Suwanee, Ga. native and former Lambert High School star is the second Yellow Jacket to participate in the event in four years. Kel Johnson reached the semifinals in 2015, and put on an electrifying first-round performance that saw him go yard a then-record 17 times.
McCann, who said he planned to speak with Johnson before he heads to Omaha on Friday, remembered watching his former teammate and momentarily pictured himself in that role.
“In the back of my mind,” he said. “At the same time, I thought it was just cool to see a Georgia Tech player in the Home Run Derby.”
Saturday will be the first time McCann has ever been in an official home run derby. He’s asked Jamie Corr, his former high school coach, to pitch to him.
“He used to throw me B.P. all the time,” he recalled. “I really wasn’t a home run hitter in high school, but if I had to pick a coach, he’s the greatest high school coach I’ve ever played for. He’s the one that got me recruited and everything. He’s a big role model.”
Seeing friendly pitching should be a boost McCann, who in college has become very much a home run hitter, and who did just fine against unfriendly pitching, blasting 15 homers in 2018, just one behind team-leader Joey Bart and slugged .600 which ranked fifth in the ACC. Three of his blasts were grand slams, one off the school season-record set by Tyler Green in 2005 and matched by Brad Feltes in 2008.
“I didn’t change anything,” said McCann of his long-ball propensity with the bases loaded. “I just go up there and try to make good contact. I ended up hitting three home runs. So I’ll say it’s just the game of baseball.”
In the derby, there will be three four-minute rounds. The top four finishers in the first round advance. The top two from the second round move on to the final round.
With peace of mind as to who’s throwing to him, McCann’s biggest concern is sustaining power over four minutes.
He’s been practicing hitting in four-minute intervals while on the Cape and even had a discussion with Dillard, who’s also on the Cape, playing with Cotuit, prior to a recent game between McCann’s Anglers and Dillard’s Cotuit Kettleers.
McCann’s Chatham teammates and coaches have been very enthusiastic in helping prepare him for the event.
“All of them have been telling me, ‘I’ll throw B.P. to you! I’ll throw B.P. to you!’ I think they’re just trying to get a trip out there,” he said, with a laugh. “But they’re all excited.”
McCann is doing his best to stay in his routine and not to make the home run derby any bigger than it is.
“I’m just going out on the field and hitting for four minutes. Then try to take a timeout when I get tired,” he said.
He’s confident he’s got the right approach to handling those 240 seconds.
“It’s not really when I get tired it’s when I start not hitting home runs,” he said. “When I’m up there trying to get as many home runs in a row, if I’m starting to hit them and it’s like six or seven, then I start rolling over for like five or six, I’ll call timeout, then I’ll take a break and come back.”
McCann is the only purely left-handed hitter in the group — Dalton, Phillips and Ready hit from the right side, while Davidson and Dillard are switch-hitters. That may be something of a disadvantage, as the park isn’t quite as friendly to left-handed hitters as Russ Chandler Stadium. TD Ameritrade is 335 down the right field line — a mere one foot longer than Russ Chandler. But then comes the big difference, as right-center at TD bows out to 375 and is 408 in straight-away center. Russ Chandler is 353 in the right-center alley and 400 to dead center.
McCann may hear some sounds familiar to Atlanta to keep him pumped up, as his entire family will be flying out. He said they may be even more excited to make the trip than he is.
“As soon as I called them and told them I was doing this they were like, ‘We’re booking the trip right now,’” he said. “They’re very excited.”