It's not hotfoot fun or pie-in-the-face fun, but playing baseball for the Double-A Midland RockHounds is still a game for A's center field prospect Michael Choice
Choice is just a couple weeks into his first Texas League season after tearing up the Class A Advanced level last year. Now that he's punching the clock at what is widely considered pro baseball's make-or-break level, Choice is seeing the "all business" side of the game he loves.
"The atmosphere within itself tells you all," Choice said. "When you show up to the park, guys are about their business. Everybody is geared to try to reach that goal of getting to the big leagues. There's not as much horseplay. Guys are taking it a lot more seriously."
Surely, as the season goes on, a little humor will no doubt bubble to the surface. Ballplayers are ballplayers after all. But until then, Choice is fine with finding his amusement on the diamond.
"It's definitely fun," he said. "It's always been fun. The fun is out here on the field you know, versus all the clowning around in the locker room. Guys are out here strictly business."
Choice was the 10th overall pick in the 2010 Draft after a sterling final season at the University of Texas at Arlington in which he led the NCAA with 76 walks. He finished his collegiate career with a school-record 34 home runs and a rapidly improving Draft status.
"Coming into the beginning of my junior year, I never would have thought I'd go that high," Choice said. "After the year kept going on and on, you hear more from the blogs and everybody, and then I knew it was a good possibility. It was a good feeling."
He played 30 games his first season between the Rookie-level Arizona League Athletics and short-season Vancouver in the Northwest League, where he spent most of his time and hit seven home runs with 26 RBIs.
That only foreshadowed his first full season when, at Stockton in the California League, the six-foot, 215-pound Choice hit a league-best 30 homers while batting .286 and driving in 82 RBIs. Talk about taking care of business.
"Over the course of the season, you're always going to have different feels, different stances, different swings," Choice said. "But for the most part, one thing I learned last year, you want to try find what works for you and then keep working at that. Definitely one of my goals this year is to make sure I'm doing the same thing every time -- that helps me be successful."
Though he walked 61 times last year, Choice also struck out 134 times but felt he was making progress by the end of the year and into fall ball, where he hit six more home runs and batted .318.
With Oakland, an organization looking to build from within, Choice feels he is in a good spot to contribute sooner rather than later. Though he prefers center, he isn't ruling out a switch to a corner outfield spot if that helps him.
"Oakland is one of those organizations, it's full of opportunity," said Choice, batting .286 and still seeking his first home run entering the week. "Things change so drastically you never know what can happen. All you can do is play hard, and hopefully you're that one phone call away."
Dirty dozens: In the first two games of the Corpus Christi Hooks-Northwest Arkansas Naturals series in Springdale, Ark., the Hooks outscored the Naturals, 24-7. The Hooks won the series opener 12-5 and followed that with a 12-2 victory in which four players had multiple-RBI performances.
Managerial moves: Four Texas League clubs opened play with new managers this year. Notable among the returnees is Northwest Arkansas' Brian Poldberg -- the only manager the Naturals have had in their four-plus seasons -- while a notable newcomer is former Toronto Bay Jays manager John Gibbons at defending champion San Antonio.
Hardware show: The St. Louis Cardinals' 2011 World Series trophy will be on display at Springfield during its series with Tulsa. The trophy will be on hand at Hammons Field from Saturday through Monday.