Detroit — It’s not just the double vision he gets every day. Sometimes, it feels like James McCann is looking in the mirror, too.
The Tigers’ stalwart catcher sees it before he heads to work most afternoons, and often when he gets home at night as well, depending on how late the Rally Goose keeps him at the ballpark. He’ll take one look at his sons, Christian and Kane — 6-month-old twins with a remarkable story to share on Father’s Day — and Christian will give him one right back.
“He’ll give me those eyebrows like, ‘What are you lookin’ at?’” McCann said, laughing as he dressed in the Tigers’ clubhouse before a game this week against the Twins, of course. “And my parents both say, ‘Yep, that was you.’
“Christian is a little bit more laid-back. Kane, he’ll let you know how he feels. And he’s a little bit quicker to smile, quicker to laugh, where Christian is more stoic, stone-faced, sort of like, ‘You’re gonna have to work for this smile.’”
At that, McCann, who celebrated his 28th birthday Wednesday, cracks a smile of his own — a grin, really — and the square-jawed stoicism is nowhere to be found. Funny what fatherhood can do to a man, or as his wife Jessica notes, what six blessed months can do for a young couple raising premature babies.
Last summer, the McCanns were elated to tell friends they were expecting their first child. Or children, as it were. Jessica was pregnant with twins, due in early February, just before James was due in Lakeland for spring training. But by August, her obstetrician cautioned that this was a high-risk pregnancy, and by early December, just a couple weeks after the couple had moved from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to their new offseason home in Nashville, doctors decided they had no choice but to deliver the twins early. Really early. The boys were born on Dec. 6 — nearly 10 weeks premature — and weighed about 3 pounds each.
The McCanns would spend the next seven weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, and for a time, James and his wife were only allowed to hold the twins once a day. The doctors and nurses made no promises early on, but the parents parried any doubts with prayer. The devout couple named the firstborn Christian, and they settled on Kane for the second boy after looking up the name and learning it meant “little warrior.”
“He was a little bit smaller than Christian at birth, and he was a fighter from the beginning,” James said. “So we knew that was the name.”
The rest already had been decided before birth: Christian Thomas takes his father’s middle name; Kane Timothy honors James’ older brother, who was stillborn.
And it was that family history, coupled with their faith, that helped the McCanns through the emotional rollercoaster of last winter. McCann’s parents lost their first child at birth, and his mother, Carla, was told her next pregnancy months later had only a 25 percent chance of survival due to a torn amniotic sac during the first trimester. She spent the next several months on bed rest before giving birth to James and now jokes he owes his love for baseball in part to all the Los Angeles Dodgers games she watched in the spring of 1990.
“To a certain degree, I think my wife and I were at peace with everything that was going on just because of my birth story,” What happened, and the faith (my parents) put in God and seeing how I turned out, I think God was just adding to that story.
“Honestly, it was probably harder for my mom than anyone. The number of times she had talked about how she would never wish what she went through on anybody, and then she’s sitting there watching her own son and his wife going through the same thing, effectively.”
Added Jessica: “Ever since I’ve known James, I’ve known about that and carried that story with me. I’ve always known how strong his parents were for dealing with that situation.”
Now they know something similar about each other, though both parents say those days and nights in the intensive care unit put it all in perspective.
“Every time we looked around, we just realized how good we had it,” Jessica said. “We’re waiting for these babies to grow, and there’s not a lot that we’re having to deal with compared to other people. So we were just thankful.”
They still are, as the babies keep growing. It takes time for preemies to catch up to their full-term peers — sometimes a couple of years. But Christian and Kane are progressing well, checking off milestones each month and checking in at 15 and 14 pounds Thursday at the pediatrician’s office. And while they both decided to roll over on the same day — May 1 — they’re also flashing signs of independence, Jessica says she’s reminded daily “that they’re gonna keep us on our toes forever.”
“The big thing for us, as parents, is we don’t want to get caught up in comparing them,” James said. “Not just to other kids, but also to each other.”
These kids have taken well to their “baseball schedule,” taking their last feeding about midnight — after dad gets home from the ballpark when the Tigers are in town — and sleeping till 9 or 10 a.m. That allows McCann, the Tigers’ first selection in the 2011 amateur draft, time to get some quality time at night and before he heads to the ballpark in the afternoon.
“James has always been pretty good at whatever happens at the field, stays at the field,” Jessica said. “But this year is so different: We don’t talk much about baseball. And I love talkin’ baseball with him. It’s just our focus has shifted to the boys at home.”
Jessica grew up around the game as well — her brother, Rick McCarty, was just named head coach of Abilene Christian University’s team — and, as James says, “I think we were both secretly hoping for boys” when they first got the good news. He sees some of his veteran teammates’ kids running around the clubhouse at Comerica Park and playing catch before batting practice and he can’t help but envision his own boys doing the same when they’re older.
In the meantime, they’ll hit the road this weekend, with Jessica and the twins and other relatives heading to Cincinnati on Sunday to meet up with James after the Tigers complete a weekend series in Chicago. They’ll spend Father’s Day night together and deliver dad some presents they made together, though Christian and Kane are keeping it a secret for now.
All of this makes even the tough times easier to handle for McCann, who returned to the lineup Thursday after missing three games due to a stomach flu bug that went through the entire household, from his wife to the twins to his mother-in-law and finally his father and younger brother and him. McCann has been struggling at the plate lately, in a 6-for-45 slump prior to Friday with one homer and five RBIs in his last 13 games.
“But getting to go home at night and seeing two smiling babies, it’s such a blessing,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you do at the field that day. They don’t care. They don’t know. And it’s a special feeling, being a dad.
“It’s one of the most rewarding things, and you do take pride in that feeling of knowing that you’re needed. Not wanted, but needed. The unconditional love that they have for you. I thought I loved my wife, I thought I loved my parents, and I do. But you have kids and, man, that’s a completely different kind of love right there.”
A whole new ballgame, if you will.