Michael Choice always knew he wanted a career in baseball.
Choice's on-field talent was quickly apparent, and the Oakland A's made him a first-round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. Choice wound up playing parts of three seasons in the Majors with the A’s and Rangers, but he finally hung up his cleats in 2022 following stints playing in South Korea and Mexico.
After 12 years of professional baseball, Choice still sees a career in the sport -- this time on the other side of the ball. This week at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., was a big step for him as he and nearly 80 other participants took part in the inaugural Advancing Bases program, which MLB’s Diversity Pipeline Program established to bring diverse talent to front offices.
“It’s been great,” Choice said. “This is my first Winter Meetings. I never went as a player, so I’m kind of soaking up what all happens in baseball outside of the player. As a player, you’re training and working out and getting ready for Spring Training right now, but to see everybody working and the other aspects that you don’t see is pretty special.”
Advancing Bases is MLB’s latest program to bring more avenues to success for diverse candidates. Earlier in the fall, the league held the Diversity Pipeline Scout Development Program to give hands-on training for scouting and coaching roles. Advancing Bases was the next step in connecting aspiring front-office workers to members of all 30 teams through professional development, networking and interview preparation.
Choice was among the several dozen people who participated in both events and feels even more prepared to begin his next baseball journey. Being able to meet role models in the industry and familiar faces -- such as A’s assistant general manager Billy Owens, who overlapped with his timeline in Oakland -- is a big help.
“It’s all about the next generation,” said Owens, who has also been a frequent speaker at Advancing Bases’ sister program, Take the Field. “You’re always going to have new people involved. Seeing that start, that beginning, somebody fresh out of college, somebody that played a little professionally and now they have to embark on a new career when their playing days are over. Everybody has a different story when they come into this, but if you have a passion for baseball, regardless of what you did to start, this is just a really cool place to be, and I like to give back.”
Owens has known many of the executives who spoke at and ran the program for multiple decades, and he hopes that many of the attendees can foster the relationships they build with other attendees for years to come.
Some of the team representatives are fairly green as well. Isha Rahman served in several roles with the league before joining the Rays in 2021, where she is now a coordinator of baseball operations. Not only was this two-day event a chance for her to learn from people in roles she’d love to one day have, it was also a chance to mentor people whose shoes she was in a few years ago.
“Advancing Bases has given me the opportunity to be a bit more of a leader for a lot of people,” Rahman said. “Before this season, I hadn’t really led or supervised anyone, and getting to lead these breakout sessions and talk to people about my journey through baseball and how I didn’t always know what I was going to do has been really helpful for me and has also helped me reflect on everything I’ve done so far.”
Choice isn’t quite sure yet what role he will be most interested in, but he does know that it all comes back to scouting. He sees his playing experience and further training in scouting as the foundation for any position he could have in a front office.
Harrison Ray thinks much the same way. Like Choice, Ray has also been working to make a transition from field to the front office. The Vanderbilt product spent two seasons playing in the Blue Jays’ system but is now a player development and scouting fellow for Toronto.
Attending programs like the Scout Development Program and Advancing Bases have opened his eyes to the world of scouting, and the conversations with people in his shoes and ahead of him who look like him are as valuable as anything else he’s taken away.
“You never want to go through things alone, and that’s what this is all about,” Ray said. “The interactions and the networking that we got to experience while we were here was very big. The people we talked to, the people we heard from, I think that was one of the biggest things. Hearing everybody’s experiences, that’s what you take away from an event like this.”