Choice living out his dream of playing for Rangers
A local product, the 24-year-old outfielder could be a key piece in Texas' future
ARLINGTON -- In a meaningless exhibition game against a team from the Mexican League, Michael Choice was called upon as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning on Thursday night.
For Choice, it was moment he may never forget. It was the first time he had ever played in a game in a place now known as Globe Life Park -- but known as the Ballpark in Arlington when Choice was growing up.
"It was cool," Choice said. "I've been in the ballpark a million times, but that was the first time standing in center field. To see that view was pretty cool."
Choice will get another thrill on Monday. He will become the first player born in Tarrant County and who also played his entire high school and college career there to be with the Rangers on Opening Day.
Choice was born in Fort Worth, went to Mansfield Timberview High and played at UT-Arlington before being taken by the A's with the 10th overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. The Rangers traded for him in the offseason, and now he gets to experience Opening Day in Arlington in front of family, friends and classmates on Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET against the Phillies.
"It's going to be a special day," Choice said. "Awesome."
Choice deserves to be there, even if he probably won't be in the starting lineup. His outstanding play in Arizona was a supernova for the Rangers as they struggled through an injury-riddled Spring Training.
Choice took the camp by storm from the beginning and never deviated from his mission, never letting the turbulence surrounding the rest of the team affect him. He left Arizona hitting .361 with a .391 on-base percentage and a .672 slugging percentage, while leading the team with 12 runs scored, four home runs and 15 RBIs.
"He showed some serious talent," outfielder Alex Rios said. "He obviously deserves a spot on the team. He played as well as anybody on the team."
"I put a lot of hard work into my offseason," Choice said. "I didn't want to use Spring Training as a time to get ready for the season. I wanted to come in here and be ready to go."
Choice went 2-for-7 with a double in two intrasquad games to start the spring and was 6-for-14 in his first five Cactus League games when the pitchers were still feeling their way into shape. But he was also 6-for-11 with two home runs in his last three games in Arizona and had a two-run home run on Friday night against the Astros in San Antonio.
"I feel like I've always done well with the bat, but obviously getting off to a good start took some of the pressure off," Choice said. "That was a huge factor. The pressure never really bothered me, and I was able to relax."
Asked what impressed him about Choice, manager Ron Washington said, "His calmness, his focus, his aptitude ... the way he took to things and applied them. He earned his way on this team. We're going to make sure it stays that way. It's not always easy, but if he's willing to keep fighting and deal with the adversity, we'll be right there with him. We expect a lot of good things from him."
Choice has a spot on the team, but not a clear role other than "fourth outfielder" behind Shin-Soo Choo in left, Leonys Martin in center and Rios in right. He is also the primary right-handed-hitting option at designated hitter if the Rangers want to sit Mitch Moreland against tough left-handers. Moreland will most likely start on Opening Day against Phillies lefty Cliff Lee because of his seniority on the Rangers.
"As far as my role, I will be ready for any situation," Choice said. "I'll continue to work and not take any time off. At the spur of the moment you could be in there and be an important factor in the game."
Choice, who made his Major League debut against the Rangers on Sept. 2, played in just nine games for Oakland last season. Choice might not get regular playing time to start this season, but his role and versatility allow Washington to break him in slowly, pick the right spots and not over-expose him too quickly.
"I don't have a set amount of time he'll play," Washington said. "He'll get his at-bats, but then it's just like Spring Training. ... The more he takes advantage of his playing time, the more he will play. He'll get some DH time against left-handers who are very tough, he'll get pinch-hit time, he'll come in on defense and he can play all three outfield spots. He's very versatile."
At some point -- maybe not this year but in the future -- the Rangers expect Choice to be more than a fourth outfielder. He could be the first in a long parade of impact offensive talent about to march up from the Minor Leagues to Arlington. Immediately behind are infielders Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas, followed by catcher Jorge Alfaro, outfielder Zach Cone, baby sluggers Nick Williams, Lewis Brinson, Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman, and others.
Choice just needs to wait patiently for his opening.
"He needs to focus on his long-term goals and to keep working as hard as he can," Rios said. "That's what will take you places. The harder you work and the quicker you learn, that's only going to make you a better player. He's young and being in the big leagues can get to you if you lose sight of what you're supposed to be doing. But if he stays focused, he'll be fine."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.