Signing day just the beginning for ACE athletes

Program sending 15 more players to collegiate level

Signing day just the beginning for ACE athletes

CHICAGO -- Collegiate Signing Day for the Amateur City Elite youth baseball program at U.S. Cellular Field rightfully serves as one of the White Sox organization's proudest moments of the year, whether the team wins 76 games or the World Series.

But Tuesday's festivities took on a little extra significance.

The 15 players in attendance to sign their respective letters of intent at the Conference and Learning Center represented the largest class since the program's inception in 2007. These same 15 players moved ACE's overall total to 106 scholarships, with 60 players now at the Division I level.

"We are pretty excited about it, to get the number over 100," Kevin Coe, White Sox director of youth baseball initiatives, said. "Now the goal is to get it to 200."

"ACE put me in front of a lot of coaches, a lot of Major League scouts," said Lorenzo Elion, who attends Simeon Career Academy in Chicago and signed with the University of Michigan. "If you perform well, you are making a name for yourself. There's no other team that can give you the opportunity to play in front of college coaches to get exposure."

Baseball falls as just one component of the ACE program. It's three stated goals are as follows:

• Identify and develop high-caliber inner-city baseball talent that otherwise might not be able to play at the collegiate and professional sports 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 beyond baseball.

Based on the 15 student-athletes being recognized, and the countless others before them, these goals have been reached with authority. Each player had the chance to announce his future college and then provide a sentence or two on what ACE meant to them and what going to college means.

"When you work hard, you can achieve anything you want to do in life," said De'jon Collins, another one of the five Simeon representatives, who will be attending Hannibal LaGrange University, of the lesson learned from being part of ACE.

"It taught me how to be a better man and a better baseball player," said Christian Bullock from Chicago's Morgan Park High School, who also will be attending Michigan.

Corey Ray, an ACE alum now playing at Louisville, could be the program's inaugural first-round pick in the 2016 Draft. ACE's baseball success is great, but the life lessons learned and opportunities to achieve outside of baseball are even better.

"It's a source of pride and a source of hope," said White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams. "To see this develop into 100-plus scholarships where people are saying across the country that young African-American men are not playing baseball in the inner cities, and to continue to turn out a good quality baseball player but even better young men, better people, yes, it's something to smile and feel good about."

"This has got to be one of the few programs in baseball like this. This many black kids playing baseball, you don't see that at all," said White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson, who also addressed the players. "It's really good for these kids, especially to go to college."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.