MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

White Sox mark 10th year of ACE program

White Sox mark 10th year of ACE program

CHICAGO -- It's beautiful when dreams are fulfilled, when opportunities are extended.

Jamarion Loston was beaming from the purest of joys on Tuesday night in the Conference and Learning Center at Guaranteed Rate Field.

When Loston was a sophomore at Morgan Park High School, on the far south side of Chicago, he went on Twitter to express his outlook for the future.

"Baseball (is) my only way out," he wrote on Dec. 17, 2015.

Loston has been a standout shortstop at Morgan Park and in the White Sox Amateur City Elite (ACE) program, and he'll enter his senior year knowing he's headed to Indian Hills Community College, in the corn belt of Iowa, to continue his growth as a baseball player. That's a long way from his hometown but a good place to launch a career.

Learn more about the Amateur City Elite Program

"I don't know where to start," Loston said when asked to talk about the ACE program. "I'm trying not to break down. I got in this program when I was 12 years old. I want to thank everybody in this room for putting me in the position I am today. Without you guys, it wouldn't even be possible."

Loston and Morgan Park teammates Robert Bluntson and Myles Norman are among the 20 members of the ACE program who have received scholarship commitments, with players landing spots at Duke, TCU, Michigan, Minnesota and Purdue.

Had Loston broken down when speaking at the annual Signing Day ceremony, he would have had lots of company. Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, all had tears in their eyes during the event, as they do every year.

Christine O'Reilly-Riordan, the head of White Sox Charities, has needed a tissue or two at this event through the years to wipe away tears of her own.

"There's no question this is the most special night of the year," O'Reilly-Riordan said.

This is the 10th year of the program, envisioned by scout Nathan Durst and enthusiastically supported by Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, and it continues to change lives and help families on the South Side, where opportunity can prove elusive for many.

The White Sox use baseball as a bridge to education for motivated youth players.

The 11-month-a-year program has helped 168 Chicagoans receive scholarships, including 21 who have been drafted by Major League teams. Past participants include Brewers outfield prospect Corey Ray, the fifth player taken in the 2016 Draft; and Ro Coleman, the 5-foot-5 center fielder on Vanderbilt's championship team.

Durst has long scouted the Midwest for the White Sox, with Mark Buehrle among those on a long list of his successful recommendations. Durst often thinks about Elliott Armstrong, a toolsy outfielder from Harlan High who was drafted by the Braves in the 39th round of the 2007 Draft.

It was in scouting Armstrong that it became clear to Durst that talented high school players were not being seen by college coaches. That was the seed that has turned into such a blessing for so many players and families over the last decade.

"These guys weren't getting enough exposure," Durst said. "They weren't able to fully have their tools seen. Major League scouts were [attending Public League games], but college coaches weren't."

That wasn't so long ago, but thanks to the success of such initiatives as the ACE program, those seem like the dark days of Chicago baseball.

Alek Thomas, the son of White Sox director of conditioning Allen Thomas, seems likely to join the ranks of ACE's most visible alums. He's a three-sport star at Mount Carmel High and has a shot to play baseball and football at TCU. He could also wind up a first-round pick in the Draft next June.

Jordon Rogers, a catcher from Simeon Career Academy headed for Michigan, and Kyle Salley, a left-hander/outfielder for Homewood-Flossmoor High with a commitment to Duke, are also among the most highly regarded members of ACE's current signing class.

They'd love nothing better than to end their college careers playing against such players as Loston, who will begin at the junior college level.

"This is one of the closest groups we've had," said Robert Fletcher, a longtime ACE coach. "These guys really pull for each other. They really do see each other as brothers. That's nice.

It's going to be fun to see where these guys go from here. The White Sox have given them a running start."

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.