This year, it appears that history is repeating itself to an extent. The A's sent their first pick -- No. 10 overall selection Michael Choice -- to Vancouver after a few quick games in the rookie-level Arizona League. And, for the first time since '04, the Canadians are in the Northwest League playoffs.
Vancouver dropped Game 1 of the first round best-of-3 series against the Everett AquaSox, a tough 9-5 loss in 10 innings, and will have to win two in Everett, beginning on Tuesday, to advance to the championship. Choice, just 113 professional at-bats into his career, already understands how special this opportunity is.
"That's huge to get that experience off the bat," said Choice, who went 0-for-4 while hitting third for Vancouver in Game 1. "Some guys never get the chance to win championships. To be able to do that, in my fist experience in pro baseball, that's what it's all about: Winning ballgames and helping your organization get better."
The Texas-Arlington product clearly made the Canadians better when he joined the club in early August. Taking over in center field every day and mainly hitting third, Choice hit .284/.388/.627 over 27 games with seven homers and 26 RBIs. The slugging percentage would have easily led the short-season league had he accrued enough plate appearances to qualify and despite his brief stay, he still managed to finish eighth in homers. Not just all pop, he also went six for seven in stolen-base opportunities.
It was his bat -- particularly the raw power -- that helped Choice stand out at a relatively smaller college program in Texas-Arlington. Choice really put his name on the map when he hit .350 for the U.S. National Team in '09 and cemented his place as a first-rounder by hitting .383/.568/.704 during his junior season.
While being selected in the top 10 is a nice resume builder and bank account stuffer -- Choice got $2 million for signing -- it's not all fun and games. Being that high of a pick comes with a set of expectations that has been known to get the better of very talented players in the past.
"I definitely feel a little pressure at times," Choice said. "Sometimes you can hear it from the crowd, but you can't let it bother you. You have to do the same things everyone else does to be successful and make it through any system."
Choice spent plenty of time hitting with wood, both in the summer and in taking extra batting-practice during the season, so that transition hasn't been a tough one. What's taken some getting used to is the daily grind. Even though it's just a short season and not the full 140-plus games he'll experience in 2011, after a college career of playing largely on weekends, the game-a-day pace of pro ball is the toughest thing to adjust to.
"You might have a good game one day, but the next game, you have to hit the reset button," Choice said. "You have to stay focused and keep the same routine to make sure [you can play every day].
"We have a really good conditioning program here, so I really haven't hit a wall."
That's a good thing because there's still more baseball for Choice. After Vancouver is done in the postseason -- barring any cancellations, the final game of the championship series would be Sunday if it went the full three games -- Choice will head to Phoenix for instructional league play. No one, at any point, will hear Choice complain about that.
"I like it," Choice said. "That's the only way you're going to progress and get better. The more the better.
"By the time instructs is over, and after a month of sitting around, I'm going to be dying to get out there again. I'm glad to get as much as I can out there now."