CHICAGO | It doesn’t get easier from here on for Angel Figueroa of Bishop Noll and Kevin Jones of Portage.
So when the two products of the White Sox’s ACE (Academy City Elite) baseball program signed their college letters of intent in a U.S. Cellular Field conference room last week, they couldn’t afford any stage fright.
No doubt the time management and discipline taught by the program that boosts urban players kept them cool in front of the cameras and microphones. The ACE program, which includes off-season training at the Ho-Chunk Sports and Expo Center in Lynwood, emphasizes education ahead of sports.
“I’m blessed that I’ve had people like (ACE director) Kevin Coe, Kenny (Williams) and everybody else in the organization,” said middle infielder Figueroa, headed for Blackhawk College in Moline, Ill. “They’ve made me the person I am today and they pushed on me to strive for excellence and focus on academics. That comes first.”
Starting out at Bishop Noll, Figueroa admitted he was “all about baseball.” Then came his ACE experiences.
“They broke me down to the reality that grades are important,” he said. “They’d check on our progress reports.”
Figueroa has a 2.89 grade point average. He plans to major in sports medicine.
Pitcher Jones picked Northern Illinois University over Purdue and Michigan State. Projecting a communications major with a minor in sports management, he’ll get to play regularly faster at NIU in the Mid-American Conference compared to the Big Ten.
“I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without them,” Jones said of ACE. “They really helped me grow as a person."
Jones cited communicating as the best skill set he has picked up through ACE.
Figueroa and Jones were joined by 10 other ACE players, mostly from inner-city schools, who signed college letters Tuesday. They rubbed shoulders with Sox general manager Rick Hahn, pitcher Hector Santiago and Del Matthews, assistant director of player development and scouting, and son of 1984 Cubs stalwart Gary Matthews.
A total of 72 ACE alums have gone to college. Eleven have been drafted into pro baseball.
High school-level players ages 13 to 18 participated in ACE, which exposes the players to varied levels of competition through a traveling team while emphasizing the educational and character aspects of daily life.