(Click above to listen to Mark Canha's interview with Section925)
By Connor Buestad | Connor@Section925.com
Mark Canha is not your average Major League baseball player. He’s redheaded, UC Berkeley educated, and is more interested in Michael Bauer’s latest food review than what’s happening on the latest edition of SportsCenter.
Despite a muscle-bound physique, a set of hefty sideburns and a job as a baseball player, Canha is more cultured than you might think. By now, you probably know of his comprehensive culinary micro-blog (@BigLeagueFoodie) that takes you along with Canha into the nation’s most renowned and unique restaurants. But on top of that, Canha sports a dry, witty, and original sense of humor that A’s fans have grown to love after just one year.
After spending five seasons on the minor league circuit as an overlooked farmhand for the Miami Marlins, Canha made his rookie debut in an Athletics’ uniform during the first home stand of 2015. Following a mishap at first base and pop-out to the catcher, Canha managed to laugh off the rocky start to his career in the Majors and turn it into a night he’ll never forget.
Canha came up in the bottom of the third inning with the bases full and unloaded a drive to right field that was just inches from a Grand Slam. He settled for a bases-clearing double as his first Big League knock. By the end of the evening, Canha had three hits (two doubles) and four RBI.
The only thing that overshadowed Canha’s monster debut was his humorous post-game press conference in the A’s clubhouse, as he deadpanned a classic line from the iconic baseball film, Bull Durham. “Just trying to help the ball club,” Canha explained to Oakland beat writers with a smile. “Give it my best shot, and the Good Lord willing, things will work out.”
Whether or not Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner contacted Canha to congratulate the rookie on his performance is unknown, but manager Bob Melvin plugged him in the lineup the following night and off he went. By season’s end, he had played in 124 games and tallied 121 hits to go along with 22 doubles and 16 homers. In the month of August, Canha hit over .300. Not bad for a rookie that the Miami Marlins gave away.
Canha was born and raised in San Jose where he eventually attended Bellarmine College Prep. One of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the Bay Area, Bellarmine prides itself on offering top-notch academics to go along with some of the best athletic programs in the state of California. Canha made sure to take advantage of both, succeeding on the competitive campus both on and off the field. But even after putting up big stats for the Bells (a team that boasts 14 MLB alums), Canha was still not as heavily recruited as he would have liked. His dream was Stanford, but then hitting coach and former Phillies first-baseman Jon Zuber convinced him to come to Berkeley and play for him at CAL.
“I was under the radar in high school for whatever reason. I always think it was a conspiracy because of the redhead thing,” Canha joked. “People don’t like readheads, so I like to blame it on that. But Zuber found me.”
In Berkeley, Canha joined a star-studded roster that forced him to wait his turn as a freshman. But come sophomore year, Canha was poised to break out and he credits the work he put in with the equally dry-humored coach Zuber as a key to his success.
“Zub was instrumental in my success of my breakout sophomore season. We did a lot of work in the Fall and I saw results. You build up confidence and see results, then you get more confidence. Zub really taught me how to hit in college. I had to make some changes.”
After leading the PAC-10 with 69 RBI as a junior, Canha would leave Berkeley a year early after being selected by the Florida Marlins in the 7th round. Once in their minor league system, Canha put up solid numbers year in and year out, but still felt as though he was overlooked. “I eventually came to the realization that I wasn’t a part of the Marlins’ Big Leagues plans,” said Canha.
It was hard to tell where Canha’s baseball career was headed following his 2014 season. All he really knew was that his wife Marci (also from San Jose) wanted to pursue her architecture career in the Bay Area. That’s why the Canha’s were elated when A’s GM David Forst gave Mark a call to let him know the A’s had signed him.
“Getting a call from David Forst, it was like bedlam for us,” remembers Canha. “We were unsure where this baseball thing was taking us and the fact that it took us to the Bay Area was outstanding for us.”
From the moment Canha arrived in the A’s clubhouse he was as comfortable as he ever felt. It showed in Spring Training last year as the hungry redhead led the team in homers while down in Arizona. He was playing alongside former teammate Marcus Semien and under Bob Melvin, both of which played at CAL. Needless to say, this felt like home for Canha.
In 2015, Canha played 75 games at 1st base and 58 games in left field, as well as few appearances sprinkled in at RF and DH. Wearing Josh Donaldson’s #20, Canha did his best to fill the void of the lost right handed power bat. A self-proclaimed lover of home runs, Canha didn’t get cheated at the plate as rookie. Seemingly loading up and letting it fly each and every at-bat.
With 2016 Spring Training just weeks away, Canha has a ton to look forward to in his sophomore campaign in the Green and Gold. He figures to be a key bat in the A’s lineup this year as he moves into his prime years as a pro (Canha turns 27 on Feb. 15th). He just recently finished filming a series of Green Collar commercials in Arizona and is now hunkered down at the Baseball Rebellion training facility in North Carolina, working with his hitting guru, Chas Pippitt.
Now that he and his wife are happily settled in San Francisco, one of the only worries Canha has at the moment is what walkup song he should use at the Coliseum this year (he wants your help, btw). Other than that, Canha is thrilled to be in the food centric Bay Area, with plenty of fodder for @BigLeagueFoodie and even more at-bats in the ever-young Oakland A’s batting order.
“I went through the system for so long,” Canha told Tripper Ortman of Section925. “Really it sounds cliché, it’s very Bull Durham of me to say this, but I’m just happy to be here. Truly, I’m just happy to be in the Big Leagues. As cliché as it sounds.”
The Good Lord willing, things will work out.