A's Mark Canha feeding intellectual curiosity while rehabbing at Cal

A's Mark Canha feeding intellectual curiosity while rehabbing at Cal

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.”

Matt Olson optimistic A's can fill void at first base in his absence


Matt Olson optimistic A's can fill void at first base in his absence

OAKLAND – It really was a freak injury. One swing of the bat, a seemingly inconsequential foul ball.

But during Thursday's loss to the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo, Matt Olson knew right away something was wrong.

"I generally have a pretty high pain tolerance," the A's first baseman said Sunday. "I couldn't grip the bat when I came back (to the dugout) so I knew something was up."

It turned out Olson had fractured the hamate bone in his right hand. He underwent hamate excision surgery Friday in Los Angeles, and will be out indefinitely.

"It sucks," Olson admitted. "The timing of it is good and bad. Good because I get five or six days here to get ahead, but it sucks because it's the beginning of the year and you work all offseason to get to this point."

A's manager Bob Melvin added: "There are certain guys who you feel like are a little more replaceable than others. He's a tough one. ... He makes everybody in the infield better. All you've got to do is get it over in his direction. He's got a wide wingspan and he picks everything out of the dirt.

"It's tough not having him out there, but that's why we have a Mark Canha, a (Jurickson) Profar, and a Chad Pinder. It gives somebody else an opportunity."

Olson was not given a timetable for his return, but he noted a wide variance in other players with the same injury, anywhere from four to eight weeks. While he's obviously disappointed, he believes the team can survive without him.

"We've got guys -- Canha, Pinder, (Franklin) Barreto, and Profar -- all of those guys are very established and have good at-bats," Olson said. "They're guys who are going to get more at-bats because of it. I don't think it's a bad thing. It sucks for me, but I'm glad these guys are going to get a little more regular playing time."

[RELATED: A's have options at first base in light of Olson injury]

Although he hasn't missed any games yet, Olson joked he has already experienced the effects of sporting a cast on his right hand in his everyday life.

"I had to go to the store today to get stuff for my apartment. I got a ton of stuff. Then I got to the apartment complex, and thought I was going to have to make like five trips because I can only carry things with one hand," he laughed.

As Olson adjusts to life with just one functional hand, the A's must adjust to life without Olson's powerful bat in the lineup and his slick glove in the field. In both cases, it will be a difficult process.

Five free agent starting pitchers still available for A's to target


Five free agent starting pitchers still available for A's to target

It's no secret the A's could use some starting pitching help.

The problem became more dire this week when the team announced talented left-hander Jesús Luzardo would be shut down for four to six weeks with a rotator cuff strain.

Though the season is already underway, there are still several starting pitchers available on the free agent market. Former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel tops the list, but don't expect the A's to throw massive money his way.

Instead, Oakland may choose to pursue one of these five starters:

Edwin Jackson

Jackson certainly makes the most sense of anyone. The 35-year-old right-hander was the most pleasant of surprises last season. Jackson went 6-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 17 starts and was a key part of the A's clubhouse chemistry.

The two sides have been in contact for much of the offseason but have not been able to come to terms on a deal. That could change now that Jackson and the A's both figure to be a little more desperate.

James Shields 

At the age of 37, Shields is obviously nearing the end of his career, but he figures to get a shot somewhere in the league. The former All-Star went just 7-16 with a 4.53 ERA last season with the White Sox but did pitch over 200 innings.

Shields has a career ERA of 4.01 in 13 seasons. The right-hander would likely fair better on a team like Oakland, especially playing his home games at the pitcher-friendly Coliseum.

Miguel González

González is coming off season-ending rotator cuff surgery, but at just 34 years old he has a chance to bounce back. The right-hander went 8-13 with a 4.62 ERA in 2017, his last full season, but recorded a solid 3.73 ERA the year before.

González has a career ERA of 4.06 in seven major league seasons and could be another pitcher who would benefit from the Coliseum. He will be available for cheap, making him a low-risk signing.

Yovani Gallardo

Gallardo has struggled the past few seasons, but at just 33 years old, he still has time to regain his form. The right-hander has a career ERA of 4.06 in 12 big league seasons.

Gallardo's last productive season came in 2015 with the Texas Rangers. The former All-Star finished that year 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA. Like González, he should be available for a low cost.

[RELATED: A's have options at first base after Olson injury]

Bartolo Colón

Yes, Big Sexy is still going strong at the age of 45. You've got to think someone will take a flier on the former Cy Young Award winner, who will be entering his 22nd major league season.

Colón has 247 career wins and a 4.12 ERA, though he struggled to a 5.78 ERA last season in Texas. But three years ago, the right-hander went 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA and made his fourth career All-Star Game.