Ray on ACE: 'A chance to change your life'

December 23rd, 2020

CHICAGO -- understood that his winter baseball clinic for Chicago-area youth was not going to be a possibility in the next few weeks, due to coronavirus pandemic protocol.

But the No. 10 Brewers prospect, per MLB Pipeline, and the native of Chicago’s South Side still wanted to give back. So Ray and his wife, Lena, donated batting helmets for the entire White Sox Amateur City Elite program, a program of which Ray is a proud alumnus.

“I’m a Rawlings athlete, so I said, ‘How about I fit everyone with gloves?’” Ray told MLB.com from his home in Surprise, Ariz. “Then we realized there were 150 players, so we figured helmets would be more feasible.”

The White Sox ACE program began in 2007 with the aim of pulling kids away from the dangers of inner-city life while also preparing them to succeed on and off the field. It’s funded by Chicago White Sox Charities, using baseball as a learning tool.

Ray played with ACE from the 13U team through the 17U team (2008-12). Whereas previous youth programs required players’ families to pick up most (if not all) of the expenses for competition, the White Sox not only cover everything but also afford talented players exposure to colleges and scouts around the country through their elite tournament participation.

“We didn’t pay a dime. I want to say some of the tournaments, they actually paid for the players' food, too,” Ray said. “We were playing in major tournaments and along with that, we were able to go to showcases. Area Code, Silver and Black, Breakthrough Series, and those opportunities came through the White Sox as well.”

After attending Simeon High School in Chicago, Ray went to Louisville from 2014-16. The junior outfielder was taken fifth overall by the Brewers in the ’16 Draft; that year, catcher Zack Collins was selected 10th by the White Sox. Ray’s baseball ascension still would have happened without ACE, but it would have been far more difficult.

Twenty-six ACE players have been selected in the MLB Draft, with Ray and Ed Howard, taken 16th overall in the 2020 Draft by the Cubs, as the highest-profile individuals. But ACE players receiving an education and getting their college degree to take into life remains just as important to the White Sox.

More than 200 ACE players have earned college scholarships, with Ray stressing the program’s overall opportunity.

“You’ve got a chance to change your life and the life of your family,” said Ray, when asked for advice he would present to current ACE players. “Not only from a monetary standpoint and playing in the big leagues and getting drafted high -- you’ve got a chance to save your family a bunch of money to play the game of baseball at a very high level.

“There’s also a chance to get some help with a degree -- obviously, the first thing that comes to mind when you talk about having kids is college. I’ve got two of them, my wife and I are already talking about how we are going to pay for college. With the help of ACE, you just continue to play and use the facilities and the coaches that they appoint that they give to you, and you can help your family.”

That previous two-hour hitting clinic run by Ray and his friends took place in January at the Southland Center, Ho-Chunk Nation in Lynwood, Ill., and it involved 30 ACE players and 25 to 30 from the Jackie Robinson West Little League program. Ray surprised players with shoes and T-shirts, followed by the holiday gift of helmets to end 2020.

It was a gift from Ray for the ACE coaches as much as the players.

“Our coaches there were coaches that I had from the beginning,” Ray said. “Everything that they have done for me, I wanted to somehow, some way give back to them. And what better way to help them then to not only help the organization that helped me, but also help the coaches who were there from the beginning.”