Mark Canha has spent much of his offseason working out and taking swings at Cal, not surprising for an ex-Golden Bear fighting his way back into baseball shape after undergoing hip surgery.
But the A’s outfielder is also logging hours at the nearby Blue Door Cafe. That’s where he holed up recently to write a 10-page term paper on the labor problems involving the South African platinum miners’ industry.
While preparing for a healthy return to the A’s roster in 2017, Canha is also feeding his intellectual curiosity. Six years after being drafted out of Cal by the Florida Marlins, Canha re-enrolled for the fall semester to work toward completing his degree in political economy.
It isn’t some online endeavor where he’s taking courses from the convenience of home. Canha has been in full-on student mode this fall, commuting from his San Francisco home to Berkeley to attend an 8 a.m. Spanish class Monday-Friday.
He’s also taking an upper-division political economy class and another in macro-economics, with mandatory discussion groups mixed in to supplement those lecture courses.
Here’s the kicker: Canha is pursuing his studies in relative anonymity, surrounded by classmates who have no idea he’s a professional baseball player.
That’s ideal for him, as Canha has played down his status as a major leaguer.
“I didn’t want a professor to think differently of me and think that I had some sense of entitlement or something like that,” Canha said. “I’m not that famous, I guess you could say, in this world. Maybe a handful of times I’ve been recognized this semester.”
His uncle, Ben Canha, planted the seed about returning to school after seeing a story about Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman returning to Duke to finish his degree. But Canha also credits his wife, Marci — who is an architect — for drilling in him the importance of eventually completing his education. He’ll have one more semester left after this one to finish his degree.
The tricky part is balancing classes with his No. 1 priority, baseball. Canha’s 2016 season ended in May when he underwent surgery to repair an impingement in his left hip. Extensive rehab work followed, and the A’s season was still going when classes began for Cal’s fall semester.
“I had to work out the schedule with the trainers,” Canha said. “I didn’t want anyone in that training room to think getting over that injury wasn’t the top priority.”
He built his class schedule to include a gap of several hours in the afternoon when he does his baseball work. Canha says he’s hitting, running and will soon incorporate defensive drills into his daily schedule. He’s on track to be 100 percent for the start of spring training, and A’s officials consider him a candidate to be the everyday right fielder next season.
The 27-year-old Canha, a San Jose native, has always had interests beyond the diamond. He’s developed a following on Instagram (@bigleaguefoodie) for the brief reviews he gives on different restaurants he visits throughout the country with the A’s.
Political economy stimulates him academically.
“There’s this global component to it,” he said. “It’s basically the study of different economic situations throughout history and kind of learning from those and what those mean for our world today.”
He keeps a low profile on campus. In his brief self-introduction for Spanish class, Canha purposely left out any mention of baseball or the A’s.
His macro-economics professor, Mario Muzzi, had no idea Canha played for the A’s until contacted by a reporter for this story. But Canha had indeed caught Muzzi’s attention during lectures simply for his willingness to engage in class discussions.
The two have struck up casual conversations before class. And though Muzzi is a longtime Bay Area sports fan, who would have thought the student engaging him about class-related subject matter was a 16-homer guy for the A’s as a rookie in 2015?
“What that tells me is he’s just a genuine guy, not trying to get doors open simply from who he is or what he does, but how he performs,” Muzzi said. “He wants to be judged by the standards of any other student. I respect that.”
Rather than classmates quizzing him about facing big league pitchers, Canha says he’s fascinated by the intellect and diverse backgrounds of some of the students he’s engaged in conversation.
“When I was here (the first time at Cal), I made friends outside of the team,” he said. “I love doing that. You run into people with levels of intelligence you’ve never experienced before.”