OMAHA, Neb. -- Ro Coleman and Corey Ray met up on the day of the College World Series opening ceremonies and instantly reconnected.
The two freshmen outfielders -- Coleman with Vanderbilt, Ray with Louisville -- started talking, and the conversation flowed as it would for any two young men who started playing baseball together as 8-year-olds on Chicago's South Side.
"It reminded me of the times we had back in Chicago," Ray said. "When we played at Vandy [earlier in the season], I didn't get a chance to talk to him that much. When we talked there it was like we never missed a step and we had just seen each other yesterday."
Ray and Coleman are the latest products of the White Sox ACE program, which gives ballplayers ages 13-18 the chance to compete against other competitive travel teams. Since the inception of the program -- which stands for Amateur City Elite -- in 2007, eight former players have been drafted and 40 have received partial college scholarships.
And for Coleman and Ray, that meant getting a chance to play on college baseball's biggest stage -- the College World Series.
"It's kind of surreal, like I'm actually living a dream," Coleman said. "Just a wonderful experience and I'm blessed to be here."
The accolades of the two haven't gone unnoticed by the White Sox.
"We really could not be more proud of these two kids," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn wrote in an email. "They've literally grown up as teammates in the White Sox ACE program, and to see them excel at the college level in their freshman seasons speaks to their skills, their work ethic and the baseball fundamentals taught to our ACE kids by our staff and coaches.
"Like so many kids today, Corey and Ro have overcome multiple challenges to be where they are with the special support of family, friends and their schools. We tell all of our ACE kids that success on the baseball diamond deserves to be celebrated, but that we also expect them to be stars in the classroom as well. Both Corey and Ro are well on their way."
The two clashed on the first day of action in Omaha, with Coleman's Vanderbilt squad defeating Ray's Cardinals, 5-3. Ray started in right field and drew a walk, while Coleman went 1-for-4 with a walk and scored a run.
Coleman texted Ray after the game and told his old friend he hoped to see Ray and Louisville again. Unfortunately, Louisville was eliminated in its next game, but Vanderbilt remains undefeated in the double-elimination tournament.
White Sox director of youth baseball initiatives Kevin Coe, who coached Coleman and Ray, was in Omaha for the opening game, bringing along current ACE players. Watching Coleman and Ray at the College World Series gave them hope that they, too, could someday make it to Omaha -- putting Coleman and Ray in a position they embrace.
"Since high school, I've always wanted to help someone because people have helped me throughout the years," Ray said. "The fact that they can look up to me and follow in my footsteps shows them that they can be here too and that it's not an unreachable feat."