Ems fans catch Canham fever from rising star.
Long after his teammates have left the field, Mitch Canham stands on his toes, stretching across the top of the Eugene dugout to sign autographs.
Canham is usually the last player to exit the field, often 10 minutes after the final pitch, as dozens of fans - young and old, drunk and sober - dangle hats, gloves, baseballs and anything else they can get signed in front of the San Diego Padres' 2007 first-round selection.
"I know how it was growing up, trying to get autographs from all the big-time players," Canham said. "My dad always told me to make sure I'm humble. I was there once.
"Sometimes that's why they come to the park, or stick around the extra couple of innings, to get somebody's autograph or just to say hi. I make it a point to give a little bit of extra time. It's no big deal."
Canham, who spent three years as the catcher for two-time College World Series champion Oregon State, has found a home in Eugene - ironically, the city that despises nearly all Beavers.
"We always give him a hard time about it," fellow catcher Justin Pickett said. "The fans love him around here and they should. He brought two national championships to Oregon. That's a big deal."
Local fans have been able to spend more time with Canham this summer because of a freak injury, coming the day before he was going to be promoted to Fort Wayne, the next step up the professional baseball ladder.
Two innings after drilling his first career grand slam - on July 14 - a foul tip bounced before connecting with Canham's testicles.
"My cup wasn't on right. My support didn't have it tight against my body," he said. "It nailed me at 90 miles per hour."
The umpire walked a baseball out to the pitcher, allowing Canham, who had collapsed on the dirt, to regain his composure. Upon returning, the umpire asked Canham if he was OK.
"I guess so," Canham said.
Afraid to be taken out of a game, Canham's nightmare turned worse two days later.
After hitting a double in his first at-bat as designated hitter the day after the injury, he was running in extreme pain. During the rest of his at-bats, he didn't even focus on hitting - just on the pain every time he made contact with the pitch.
Canham could barely walk the next morning and went to the doctor, who recommended surgery to make sure there wasn't any severe damage. It was several days after the surgery that Canham was finally able to move again, and was more than two weeks before he entered a game.
"It kinda hurt being out for so long and just laying in bed, not being able to do nothing," Canham said. "Physically, my body got drained. Trying to come back now and play every day, it's strenous on the body. I couldn't stand to be out another day. It was killing me."
The catcher was embarassed by the injury at first, even opting to shut off his cell phone at one point early in his recovery.
"It's nothing anybody wants to talk about, your manhood getting nailed," he said. "I saw it in the papers, I saw it on TV. I just shut my phone off, watched TV, relaxed and focused on healing."
The time off allowed him to improve other parts of his game, including those important to being a good teammate. Pickett noted that Canham is very baseball savvy and listens intently, which allows him to command respect on the field.
"He has definite leadership abilities," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "To have that kind of a take-charge guy behind the plate is extremely important."
Finally healthy, the collegiate All-American said his goal is to make it to the major leagues in three or four years, eventually becoming an all-star catcher who leads the Padres to a World Series title.
"I always like to shoot for the stars," Canham said. "I always like to put myself on that level. If I didn't go into college saying, 'Hey, I'm gonna win a national championship,' I don't think I ever would have."
In the meantime, Canham said he is in a great situation with a top-notch organization. However, what has meant the most is the family support from T-ball to professional baseball.
"Growing up I was always a die-hard M's fan, just because me and my dad would sit around and watch Mariners games all the time," said Canham, who grew up in Everett, Wash. "It's funny, my dad never talks about the Mariners any more. All we talk about is the Padres and what they're doing.
"Even if I got picked up by the Yankees, my dad would find a way to like them."
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|Title Annotation:||Sports; The ex-OSU standout's summer with the Emeralds shows why the Padres made him a first-round pick|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Aug 25, 2007|
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