Holding a roster spot with the A’s all season has not only allowed Mark Canha to remain in the Oakland organization, which would have to offer the Rule 5 draft pick back to his former team if it dropped him from the big-league roster. It has also helped Canha refine his palate.
Canha, the rookie first baseman and outfielder, is also a self-professed food lover with an Instagram page titled “bigleaguefoodie,” where he documents his visits to restaurants on the road and around the Bay Area. It’s something Canha said he has always wanted to do but held off starting until this spring for two reasons.
“I’ve never had enough followers, because not that many people are interested in Triple-A baseball players and what they’re doing,” Canha said. “Nor did I have the funds in the minor leagues, because you don’t get paid anything, so I couldn’t afford to go out much.”
But armed with adventurous taste buds and major-league meal money, Canha – often with his wife, Marci, who he said shares his passion for food – this season has cut a culinary swath across the cities of the American League. Among the dishes featured on his Instagram: The rare beef pho at Saigon in Cleveland, the bison burger at The Birch & Vine in St. Petersburg, the pork belly hash at Toast in Birmingham, Mich., near Detroit.
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“It’s been a lot of fun,” Canha said.
A San Jose native who went to Cal, Canha has taken advantage of being back in the Bay Area by exploring the establishments of San Francisco, where he said his favorite so far is Liholiho Yacht Club. He recently documented an entire meal there, including a beet salad with shiso ranch and crispy sunchokes, lamb rib, and the roasted octopus – “A delicious plate,” he wrote, “even for the non octopus lover in your life.”
On the road, Canha said the best place he has visited is Sushi Nakazawa in New York. Those familiar with the 2011 documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” will recognize the restaurant’s namesake as one of the apprentices of sushi master Jiro in the film.
“It’s a sushi restaurant, but it’s not just a sushi restaurant,” Canha said. “The flavors, I’ve never tasted anything like that. That’s one I’ll always remember, just because it’s so rare to go to a place like that.”
Recently, Canha also has been feasting on quality pitching. Entering Saturday, he was batting .421 in his last 10 games and .345 in August. That stretch included his first four-hit game on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, with two of those hits coming against reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.
“I think his at-bats are as good as we’ve seen him all year right now,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said before Friday’s game against the Rays. “And that’s including a stretch early in the season when he was doing really well and hitting some balls out of the ballpark. He’s been really productive for us.”
After hitting eight home runs in the first half of the season, Canha has just one since the All-Star Break. But he has hit for a higher average and a comparable slugging percentage thanks to six of his 21 second-half hits finding gaps for doubles.
Canha slumped – hitting .116 in 17 games – before his recent tear, and he credited the improvement to work with hitting coach Darren Bush. The two noticed Canha, who lifts his front foot up as the pitcher is about to throw, was lunging forward before even seeing the pitch. As a result, his body was moving before his hands knew where to go, and he was missing pitches he felt he should have hit.
“I’ve just been kind of slowing things down to have a little more feel when it comes to where my (bat) barrel is going,” Canha said. “I’ve really kind of understood my swing the last couple weeks, and been able to apply that and actually do more damage, I would say, with the balls that are good pitches to hit.”
It also has helped that Canha is playing more regularly of late, something that figures to continue with first baseman Ike Davis scheduled to have season-ending hip surgery next week. Originally acquired to help the A’s against left-handed pitching, Canha actually has hit right-handers much better (.285/.338/.511) than left-handers (.192/.259/.212) in his rookie year.
Canha said he has naturally grown more comfortable in Oakland throughout the season and takes pride in being the kind of versatile defender – bouncing between left field and first base – the A’s value. In Oakland, he’s getting an opportunity to play that he did not have during five seasons in the Miami Marlins’ organization, where he hit .285 in the minors with two 20-homer seasons but never rose above Triple A.
During that time, Canha said he learned that being a consistent player is “about finding something that works. … It’s a long season, and you’re not going to feel the same every day – your mentality, your body. It’s about finding what’s going to make you successful that day and getting yourself ready to play.”
Starting, often, with a good meal.