White Sox ACE program caters to inner-city talent

2013-11-18T22:00:00Z 2013-11-18T23:58:16Z White Sox ACE program caters to inner-city talentJohn Burbridge john.burbridge@nwi.com, (219) 933-3371 nwitimes.com

LYNWOOD | Maybe he didn't take the "ACE" part that seriously.

"What's this ... a 'B' in Honors English?" Kevin Coe asked when he took a look at Tyler Gordon's report card. "What's with that?"

"And she's one of my favorite teachers," said Simeon sophomore Gordon, whose Honors English mark was his only blemish for the recent grading period.

Gordon had arrived about 10 minutes early, or as Coe and baseball instructor Ro Coleman consider it, right on time for his indoor training session at Ho-Chunk Sports and Expo Center as part of the White Sox ACE (Amateur City Elite) program.

"I've been with (ACE) since I was 13 years old," Gordon said. "I want to become the best player I can be."

If he keeps his grades up and progresses in his training, Gordon may become part of a growing contingent of "ACE" graduates who have gone on to continue their careers in college.

"Last year we had 15 players earn college scholarships ... 12 for (Division 1)," Coe said of a group that includes Ronnell Coleman, son of Ro, who hooked on with the University of Vanderbilt. "So far this year, we have 14."

Coe is the manager of Youth Baseball Initiatives for the Chicago White Sox. He overseas the ACE program, as well as the Sox' RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner City) program, where he coaches an RBI all-star team during the summer.

Though Coe is employed by the White Sox, the first baseball paycheck he received was from the Cubs, who drafted him in the 14th round of the 1994 MLB Amateur Draft.

"A lot of times it comes down to how much money they've invested in you," said Coe, a Simeon graduate who hit .280 in rookie ball as an 18-year-old second baseman with the Gulf Coast League Cubs, but was released the following year.

"If you're a high draft pick and they paid you (a big signing bonus), they'll give you plenty of chances," said Coe, who was allowed to play NAIA college ball after his pro stint. "If not, they'll have little patience with you."

Coe went on to pursue a career in teaching and was drawn back into the game as a favor to a friend.

"He asked me to coach an inner-city team, and I thought I would have a bunch a players who didn't know how to throw or swing a bat correctly," Coe said, "but I was surprised by the talent and skill they had ... surprised that good baseball still exists in Chicago."

Coe eventually came to the Sox' Youth Baseball Initiatives program in 2009. The "ACE" program had already been installed two years before, and now offers offseason indoor training at Ho-Chunk and the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center located on Chicago's south side.

"We offer training to players and families who normally wouldn't be able to afford it," Coe said of ACE, which fielded nine travel teams last year after starting with one in 2007.

"A lot of city kids don't view baseball as glamorous as basketball or football, but it could be the one sport that takes them places," Coe said. "It could be their path out of a bad neighborhood, or help give them the means to return as community leaders to make things better."

The ages ACE caters to range from 13 to 18.

"At about 13 years old is when the dimensions of the game change for most players," Coe said. "The pitching mound has been moved back; the bases are longer.

"At the Little League level, players can get by on their athleticism alone. But when the game gets bigger, fundamentals become more important."

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