Club works with elite players in ACE program, donates uniforms to local teams
By Scott Merkin
CHICAGO -- The White Sox extensive commitment to youth baseball in the Chicagoland area serves a dual purpose.
First of all, it connects the club to local youth -- the fans of today and tomorrow -- at an early age. More importantly, it gives children a chance to play baseball as they grow up and potentially in college, an opportunity which might not have previously existed.
"There's nothing that gives us a greater sense of pride than when we see one of these kids excel at the college level," White Sox senior vice president of communications Scott Reifert said.
Reifert is referring to the White Sox organization's highly-acclaimed Amateur City Elite traveling baseball program, which began in 2007. It includes more than 100 inner-city kids aged 12 to 18. To date, per the White Sox, 14 ACE players have been drafted by pro teams and 90 ACE players have earned athletic scholarships for college, with 46 from Division I schools.
Corey Ray, an ACE alum, made news recently when he executed a straight steal of home to push Louisville to a run-off win over Wake Forest. Ro Coleman, another ACE success story, played a part in Vanderbilt's NCAA championship last season and continues to excel as a sophomore.
But reinforcing a point espoused by executive vice president Ken Williams during every letter-of-intent signing day at U.S. Cellular Field, ACE is designed to prepare the players as much off the field as on the field. Here are the program's three main goals:
• Identify and develop high-caliber inner-city baseball talent that otherwise might not be able to play at the collegiate and professional levels without proper structure, support and exposure.
• Reverse and correct the trend of reduced participation by African-Americans in baseball.
• Prepare participants to succeed in life far beyond baseball.
Along with ACE, the White Sox Youth Baseball Initiative is entering its third full season, providing nine Little League programs around suburban Chicago with White Sox hats and shirts for teams. Those leagues range from Orland Park to Oak Park to Park Ridge to the latest addition of Naperville.
Each child in the program receives a White Sox jersey and cap. Manager Robin Ventura welcomes players via video message, and at least twice per month over the course of a season, participants watch instructional videos from Sox coaches. The initiative also works to recognize players who have done something great on the field or in the community.
"It's not just about putting uniforms on these kids," said White Sox senior director of business development and broadcasting Bob Grim. "It's about being good to your teammates and being part of your team. That's what Robin stresses on the video he sends out.
"What we are trying to do is get them back on the field playing. They are not in the basement playing video games. They are outside."
Factoring in these nine leagues involved, Grim points out that over 14,000 kids and coaches wear the White Sox uniforms.
"We are proud of it," Grim said. "We hope to continue to expand the program even more in future years. The feedback has been phenomenal."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.