Foodie Canha comfy with full count, full plate

March 19th, 2022

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Through risotto, Mark Canha met the world.

The Mets’ new right fielder was only 6 or 7 when it happened, when he first pressed creamy rice to his tongue and experienced revelation. Canha grew up in the Bay Area with a dad who traveled internationally for work, collecting food and wine magazines for recipes to try later at home. The risotto was only one, but it stands out -- the start of what would become a lifelong passion.

“I was exposed to a lot of different dishes, a lot of different types of cuisine,” Canha said Friday in the Mets’ dugout at Clover Park. “I’ll never forget the first time I had risotto. I was like, ‘What is this? This is the best thing I’ve ever tasted!’

“The way I see it, I’m a perfectionist and into attention to detail. Now, if I’m going to eat something, I want it to be good, always, as much as possible.”

Now in New York, baseball’s biggest foodie is being unleashed on one of the world’s culinary capitals. In that sense, the two-year, $26.5 million deal Canha struck this winter to replace Michael Conforto represents more than a career high point baseball-wise. It’s also fitting for a career that’s been fortuitous in cultivating his salivatory side hustle.

While most Minor Leaguers report to remote outposts devoid of culinary reputations, Canha rose through the Marlins’ system via south Florida and New Orleans, two culinary hotspots (and later spent time as a Minor Leaguer in Nashville). Being a Rule 5 Draft pick by the A’s in December 2014 brought Canha home to the Bay Area -- and its tapestry of diverse eateries. He played seven seasons for Oakland, using versatility and considerable on-base skills to grow into a productive regular. Off the field he lived in San Francisco, exploring its famed restaurants in his spare time.

“It snowballed from there,” Canha said. “Once you’re in San Francisco, you’re a fool if you don’t explore that food scene a little bit."

Quickly, the urge arrived to share it. At some point early in his career, Canha met a food blogger and again -- like with the risotto -- his horizons were broadened. The blogger encouraged him to create an Instagram account -- @bigleaguefoodie -- to chronicle his food adventures. The account comes with the description, “Hittin’ dingers and crushing food along the way.” It has 32,800 followers.

“It's a fun way for me to connect with fans,” Canha said. “People are always telling me when I'm on the field, 'Hey, you got to eat here! I saw you ate there! I love that place!’ Stuff like that.”

Canha, 33, mostly tries new restaurants with his wife, Marci, But being his teammate means “you’ve gone to dinner and had no idea what you’re about to eat,” said right-hander Chris Bassitt, who was recently reunited with Canha via trade after seven years together in Oakland.

It’s because of Canha, for instance, that Bassitt found himself several springs ago chomping down on bone marrow at an Arizona steakhouse. Canha loves bone marrow, calling it “one of my favorite things in the world.” (He recommends Mi Tocaya, a Mexican joint in Chicago.)

Bassitt wasn’t aware it was served, but left loving it. Similarly, Canha was first introduced to the dish by former A’s outfielder Coco Crisp.

“He truly enjoys the culinary scene,” Bassitt said. “Way more than me, just going to get pizza from down the street. If you want a certain type of food, he usually has the right place to go and the best place to go.

Said manager Buck Showalter: “He talks about things a lot of guys don’t talk about.”

Canha has a few Michelin-star restaurants on his radar in New York but also plans on casting a wide net. Bagel places, pizza, casual food -- his palate is interested in everything and anything the city has to offer. At the top of his upscale short list? Per Se, chef Thomas Keller’s three-star French outpost at the foot of Central Park.

“I’m hoping being on the Mets will help me a little bit,” he chuckled. “Who doesn’t love to eat? Traveling and experiencing food in different places is my end game. Exploring and tasting as many things as I can before I die. That’s the goal.”