Canham thrilled to be Beavers skipper
CORVALLIS — When Mitch Canham was interviewed for a minor-league managing position by the Seattle Mariners prior to the 2016 season, he envisioned a long career with the organization.
"I'm all in on this job," Canham told Andy McKay, the club's director of player development. "I was born and raised in the Northwest. This is home. I'm never going to leave, except if I get one call. There's only one job in the world that would mean more to me."
Canham has it now.
The catcher on Oregon State's 2006 and 2007 national championship teams returned to his alma mater Friday to be presented as the school's head baseball coach, succeeding his coach and mentor, Pat Casey.
"This is the only job I've ever really dreamt of," Canham, 34, told the assembled media and members of the OSU athletic department.
Canham's hiring was announced 13 days after Oregon State's season-ending loss to Creighton in the Corvallis Regional. Competing with head-coaching vacancies at a number of Division I schools, including Pac-12 brethren Oregon and Southern Cal, "we needed to move quickly," OSU athletic director Scott Barnes said.
Barnes interviewed six candidates and seriously considered three finalists — Canham, interim head coach Pat Bailey and pitching coach Nate Yeskie. Barnes assembled a selection committee, which included athletic department officials Kimya Massey, Kyle Pifer and Marianne Vydra along with former OSU shortstop Darwin Barney.
Casey had plenty of pull, too, but mainly used it to advocate for a candidate from the Oregon State baseball "family." Canham, Bailey and Yeskie all qualified.
"'Case' was right alongside me the whole way, and we navigated some things together," Barnes said.
Casey was in an awkward position, not wanting to play favorites among the finalists.
"For me to single out any one of the three as the best wouldn't have been fair," said the man who won 900 games and three College World Series titles in 24 years at the OSU helm. "Scott gave me the opportunity to distance myself from the situation (once it got down to the final three). He felt he had to look at the future of Oregon State baseball, that he couldn't look at it short term. "
That may have eliminated Bailey, who is 63. Yeskie, 44, enjoyed the support of many of his former OSU players but has never been a head coach. Canham has never coached in college, but he has managed more than 500 minor-league games, working primarily with players of college age and just beyond.
Barnes had met Canham last fall when he returned to Corvallis for the OSU Sports Hall of Fame induction of the 2006 and '07 baseball teams. Their paths have crossed a couple of times since.
"We've had the chance to break bread a little," Barnes said.
Canham knocked it out of the park in an interview on Wednesday, the OSU AD said.
"He was so sincere," Barnes told me. "The breadth and depth of his answers were so far beyond his years. And that's who he is. He's a leader way beyond his years."
Barnes sought out the opinion of McKay, who told him Canham was "the talk of the entire (Seattle) organization)." Canham was in his fourth season as a manager in the Seattle organization, his first at the Double-A level with Arkansas in the Texas League. The Travelers (42-21) own by far the best record in the league and have clinched the North Division first-half pennant.
McKay had managed Canham when he was playing in the Alaska Summer League. McKay met with Canham while he was nearing the end of a nine-year playing career in the minor leagues.
"I'd never encountered a more selfless leader in my life," McKay told me earlier in the week. "I wanted him to be a part of the Mariners."
McKay, the head coach for 14 years at Sacramento City College, considered Canham potential major-league manager material.
"He had a chance to make $3 or $4 million a year some day with the Mariners," Casey said.
Almost from the time Canham set foot on the OSU campus in the fall of 2002, though, serving as the Beavers' head coach "was something that, in the back of my mind, I knew that I'd love to do."
Mitch and wife, Marlis, have two young children, Mack and Mya.
"We're really excited to be coming home to Corvallis," Canham said. "I've lived for the Orange and Black since I attended OSU. My passion for the program is second to none.
"I promise you I'll put my heart and soul into this."
Canham has stayed close to the OSU program and become a dedicated fan. At the press conference, Canham told the story about watching the championship game of the 2018 College World Series (Oregon State beat Arkansas 5-0) in his office at the ballpark before a Travelers game in Little Rock.
"I'm locked in on the game," Canham said. "I didn't want to miss a pitch. I'm not sitting. I'm pacing and watching the game. ... I'd already made the decision that, if the game goes extra innings, I was going to run out and get tossed (from the Travelers' game) and get back in there and watch the completion of the game.
"I remember standing there and tearing up (after the Beavers' win) and feeling pure joy, watching everyone running out there on the field, the dogpile, the hugs."
Canham experienced that first-hand in 2006 and '07, returning for his senior season to claim all-Pac-10 and third-team All-America honors as a left-handed hitting catcher and team captain.
"We've had some great leaders come through our program, but he is certainly in the conversation," Casey said. "The things that stood out to me about Mitch when he was playing were his will, his determination, his passion and his ability to get other guys to follow him."
There were personal hurdles to overcome.
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 of his mother. He plowed on, thanks to help from his family and his Christian faith.
"Mitch had trials and tribulations that most people don't have," Casey said, "but his character was so strong, he was able to withstand that."
Canham has never recruited players before.
"There is going to be some learning," he said. "I'm open to that. It will be about understanding how to communicate not only with the student-athletes but their families.
"We have a good network, especially here in the Northwest. We'll find the right people, not only with the skills to excel on the field, but also in the classroom. We're looking for the right people. Guys with strong character, ready to be held accountable and ready to learn."
"Recruiting is getting to know people," Casey said. "It's believing in who you are. The program right now speaks for itself. Mitch doesn't have to come in and sell the program. He has assistants working for him. Our recruiting class is already done for this year, and they're deep into next year. That's going to be an easy transition, because of how well the coaches will work with him."
Canham said his first order of business was to try to retain as many members of the current staff — Bailey, Yeskie, third-base coach Andy Jenkins and first-base coach Ryan Gipson — as possible.
Bailey and Yeskie have accepted the two paid positions on Canham's staff.
"He has asked me to stay on staff, so that's the plan," Yeskie said Friday night.
Yeskie is disappointed to not have gotten the head coaching job, but said he immersed himself Friday into reaching out to recruits who are committed to Oregon State.
"That's been my focus," he said. "I have not given much thought to anything else."
Bailey and Canham have known each other for several years and have stayed in touch.
"We talk to each other on the phone about every other month," Bailey said.
Canham stayed at Bailey's Corvallis house Thursday night as he prepared for Friday's announcement.
"Mitch is a stud," Bailey said. "He's a great young man. He's going to do a great job. He loves working with young men. We're both in the man-molding business.
"I love working here. I love Corvallis. I'm excited to be a part of his staff."
Jenkins — who moved into the second paid assistant coach's position this season after Casey's retirement — would have to go back to volunteer status and seems unlikely to stay. Gipson could remain in his volunteer position. Both Jenkins and Gipson are former teammates of Canham's at OSU.
Casey — whose youngest son, Joe, was a sophomore outfielder on this year's Oregon State team — attended several games on the road but none at home this season so as not to be a distraction to the Beaver coaching staff. He vows to be more visible during practices and games at Goss Stadium next season. And he'll be available to Canham and his staff as needed.
"I remember talking a lot to (predecessor) Jack Riley my first year at Oregon State," said Casey, who was 35 when he took over the OSU program in 1994. "I'll certainly be there if there is anything I can do for Mitch as far as being a mentor or consultant or what have you.
"I just want him to know I trust him as a coach. I have no question about his ability to do it. And he is going to have great people around him."
Canham said his focus will be on winning games, but also beyond.
"This program has done tremendous things to change the lives of student-athletes," he said. "We've won a few national championships and played great baseball, but what all the former players are doing now is even more amazing.
"The truly amazing part is the relationships we build here. I see it every year, watching how the (alums) take pride in the program and how they bond together. It's so different than anywhere else. We look to continue that and excel even more at it.
"The people here are amazing, from top to bottom. And there's a tradition, a high set of standards, which is outstanding to see. You know coming in what the expectations are. We dream big. We're going after it. If we keep those type of people coming through here, we'll be in a good place."
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