Other teams might have had the appeal of more popular players, and others still might have won more games, but Michael Choice grew up rooting for his hometown Texas Rangers.
He re-enacted a scene that countless kids before him had played out and countless more have since and will continue in the future. When Choice played baseball in the backyard with friends or imagined himself as a big league player, he was playing for the Rangers.
Sometimes, things have a funny way of working themselves out.
Choice will be on the Rangers’ Opening Day roster, the first of his career, Monday afternoon at Globe Life Park when the Rangers lift the lid on the 2014 season against Philadelphia.
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But Choice knows he’s no longer daydreaming. He has had roughly four months to wrap his mind around the trade that sent him home from Oakland, and six weeks of spring training to see what it’s like to wear a jersey with Texas across the chest.
He will be feeling some nerves Monday but won’t be overwhelmed by them in his first Arlington opener as a player. He won a spot on the Rangers’ roster by keeping a level head during spring training and by not trying to do too much.
“I’ve probably been to at least five or six Opening Days as a fan growing up, so I know exactly what the atmosphere is going to be like. Being down on the field is going to be a completely differently thing,” Choice said Saturday.
“You think about it, but at the same time, once you play so many games it’s not that same nervous feeling as if all the sudden I woke up one day and all the sudden I was just out there. That’s not the case. We went through spring, and you get a good feel for your teammates. That kind of relaxes you and gives you confidence.”
Based on spring statistics, no player should have as much confidence as Choice, who was born in Fort Worth, graduated from Mansfield Timberview High School, attended UT Arlington and lives in Arlington.
He entered camp as a contender to win a roster spot but still had to win one. He did, entering the finale of the two-game Big League Weekend at the Alamodome with a .381 average and team highs in homers (five) and RBIs (17).
He also adequately played all three outfield positions and made a big impression with his ability to adjust after pitchers in the Cactus League started to make adjustments against him.
Choice, 24, also showed a hitting approach made for success. He waits on pitches, gets a good read on them, and his natural stroke is to the opposite field.
“That’s very indicative of a guy that can go up there and put a good at-bat together,” manager Ron Washington said.
“What I saw in this kid is he was hitting all the pitches. When they first made adjustments on him, he realized he needed to make adjustments and he did. We reiterated to him that what he did is going to have to be ongoing from this point on in his career if he wants it to happen at the major league level.”
Washington lauded Choice for his focus and aptitude. He didn’t get the job because he was part of a significant off-season trade. He earned it, and his play might have earned him more playing time.
Washington expects Choice, a right-handed hitter, to get at-bats at designated hitter, a spot held down by the left-handed-hitting Mitch Moreland. Choice could push lefty-hitting center fielder Leonys Martin, and not just necessarily against left-handed pitching.
“I can hit righties and lefties, so it’s not just a full-blown platoon situation,” said Choice, who lives only 15 minutes south of the Globe. “If somebody needs a day, it wouldn’t be a drastic deal to put me out there.”
Choice’s day is coming, not just Monday but down the road this season and potentially in 2015 if right fielder Alex Rios isn’t re-signed. For now, he’s content with his role as an extra player and he believes he can flourish in it, even though he has only 18 career major league at-bats.
So do his teammates.
“It doesn’t matter how many at-bats you take in the big leagues,” left fielder Shin-Soo Choo said. “I saw this spring that his swing lets him hit to all fields. That plays, especially in the big leagues on off-speed pitches.
“I watched him all the time in spring training. I worked with him. He really wanted to try to make the team, and he did.”