CHICAGO -- The conference center at Guaranteed Rate Field was filled with coaches, relatives and friends of the 12 players from White Sox Amateur City Elite youth baseball program who assembled to sign their collegiate letters of intent on Tuesday.White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams and Devin Picket, a
CHICAGO -- The conference center at Guaranteed Rate Field was filled with coaches, relatives and friends of the 12 players from White Sox Amateur City Elite youth baseball program who assembled to sign their collegiate letters of intent on Tuesday.
White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams and Devin Picket, a former ACE participant who is now a baseball operations intern with the White Sox, delivered powerful words of celebration and praise for the program. But none topped the impact of the few words coming from Tavion Towers, who was committing to Claflin University in South Carolina.
"I grew up with friends that played baseball too, but we had some guys that got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and they lost their lives," Towers said. "I lost a couple of friends growing up."
Each player had the chance to announce his name and chosen school, ranging from Wiley College in Texas to the University of Michigan. But it was Towers who directly stated how ACE saved his life.
"The ACE program, I take it as, during weekdays, instead of going outside around in a gang, we are practicing three days a week," Towers said. "Then on weekends, we'll be out of town. So it's like I'm always gone. I take that as getting me into a good place, taking me out of the wrong place.
"Not that I'm going out and doing bad. But it's a lot of people that are bystanders that get their lives took from them not knowing what's going on. They had no parts of the violence. They were just outside living their lives."
Joining Towers on the stage were Reggie Brock (Chicago State), Reis Calvin (Wiley), Ben Collazo (Heartland Community College), Justin Diaz (Illinois State), Rhyan Hayes (Lane College), Jared Hunt (Madison Technical College), Tony Martinez (Wiley), Angelo Smith (Michigan), Corey Stallings (Tuskegee University), Tommy Washington (Northern Illinois University) and Donivan Williams (Illinois State).
Since the inception of the program in 2007, more than 130 scholarships have been obtained by ACE players and more than 70 at the Division I level. Eighteen ACE players have been drafted by Major League teams.
Washington's dad is part of the White Sox grounds crew, leading to a dream for the ACE player.
"One day, hopefully, I can be on the field and he can be fixing it for me," said the middle infielder and catcher with a laugh. "Being part of this program, it's all about growth: whether it's in school or on the field and off the field. It's all about being a better person at the end of the day."
ACE also is about life-changing opportunities for many of these players, as Towers explained.
"When you hear that, as I even said it back just now, chills went through my body," Williams said. "I don't know how to describe it any more than that. It puts some things in perspective at a time when there's a lot going on in the city we want to try to change, we want to try to correct. But this is one of the things along with some other things that are going on in the city that are of a positive nature."
Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.