Canham deserves serious consideration for Oregon State Beavers baseball job
There's a strong list of candidates for athletic director Scott Barnes to consider as he seeks a replacement for Pat Casey as Oregon State's head baseball coach.
In a recent column, I named a few. I was remiss, however, in not mentioning Mitch Canham.
Canham is in his fourth season as a manager in the Seattle Mariners' organization, his first at the Double-A level with Arkansas in the Texas League. As of Monday night, the Travelers were 40-21 — the league's best record by a mile — and already have clinched the North Division first-half pennant.
Oregon State fans well remember Canham, now 34, as the left-handed hitting catcher on the Beavers' College World Series championship clubs of 2006 and '07. Other than Adley Rutschman, Canham was as good or better than any catcher during the Casey era, a list that includes Andrew Susac, Ryan Ortiz, Jake Rodriguez and Logan Ice.
Character is where Canham really stood out. In the "leader of men" category, he was at the front of the line.
"The best leader in the country," Casey called him at the time.
Canham was an Academic All-American, a member of the school's student-athlete advisory committee and team captain. He also wrote the lyrics to "O State Ballaz," the rap song that served as the theme to the title run in 2007.
A first-round draft pick by San Diego after his senior year in 2007, Canham played nine seasons of pro ball, including four stints in Triple-A — and nine games with the Portland Beavers in 2010.
After retirement as a player in 2014, Canham turned to coaching. In his first season with the Seattle organization in 2016, he managed Class-A Clinton (Iowa) to 86 wins in the Midwest League, setting an 80-year record for wins at the low A level. Canham was named the franchise's Employee of the Year by the player development division.
The next year, at mid-level A, his Modesto team won the California League title and he was honored as the organization's Manager of the Year.
When Andy McKay was named the Mariners' director of player development in 2015, the first person he reached out to about a job was Canham.
"He was still playing," McKay told me by phone on Monday. "I had managed him in the Alaska Summer League. I'd never encountered a more selfless leader in my life. I wanted him to be a part of the Mariners."
McKay, the head coach for 14 years at Sacramento City College, believes Canham is major league manager material.
"I think the world of him," McKay told me. "He'd be a great head coach at Oregon State."
The last time Canham and I spoke — when the 2006 and '07 teams were inducted into the OSU Sports Hall of Fame last year — he told me how much Oregon State meant to him.
"It's not just the school that I went to," he said. "It's family."
There's only one position that would stop Canham from pursuing a major league managerial job. That's being the head coach at Oregon State.
"It's my dream job," he said then. "The impact this school had on me was huge."
Canham has dealt with major adversity in his life.
The year that Canham arrived at Oregon State from Lake Stevens, Washington, his mother, Kimi Kendall, died from an overdose of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine at age 40. Mitch was 18. OSU baseball helped him get through it.
Five years later, his younger brother Dustin died while serving as a Marine in the African nation of Djibouti. Dustin was 21. It was devastating to Mitch, as was the death to his mother. He plowed on, thanks to help from his family and his Christian faith.
It goes back to character. Canham has shown that through his managing of players in the minor leagues.
"Mitch is a servant leader," McKay said. "His passion is to help other people. At a very young age, he has completely gotten over himself and can dedicate his energy into how he can improve the lives of others and help them chase their dreams. Everything he has accomplished has been based on trying to help other people.
"It's a beautiful story. It's so refreshing. It's living evidence that when you focus on other people, sometimes it pays you back. That's the reason I hired him with the Mariners. It's the reason why Oregon State would be wise to hire him as their next coach."
McKay doesn't want to lose Canham from the Mariners organization. He merely wants to see a man he admires realize his dream.
I don't know if Barnes is considering Canham as a candidate for the OSU job. It would make sense if he does.
I believe the hire needs to come from within the Beaver baseball "family." That includes Canham. I have little doubt he'd keep largely intact the current coaching staff. He knows well interim head coach Pat Bailey and all of the assistants.
I wouldn't be surprised if a decision is made by the weekend. My guess is the choice will come down to Canham, Bailey or pitching coach Nate Yeskie. I think Barnes will realize the value of being an insider on this hire. There's a certain culture to OSU baseball, and it ought be continued.
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