Cooper Tomkinson and Jaxen Lehr Earn Titans First Annual MVP Awards

by Jim Stewart

Eight players were honored by the Titans Baseball Club for their stellar efforts during the 2020 season. The roll out of awards was welcome news in a week dominated by Pandemic Lockdown-related adjustments to the Titans off-season program. COVID19 Lockdown protocols have precluded the Titans’ capacity to host an Awards Dinner for our winners, but keeper plaques designed by Newmarket’s Rainbow Promotions. 

MVP and Leadership Awards:  Cooper Tomkinson and Jaxen Lehr

Cooper Tomkinson’s “Fall Haul” continued in early-December as he was named the organization’s first 18U Titans Most Valuable Player.  The Barrie resident also signed his letter of intent with Dodge City Community College Conquistadors in Kansas in November. 18U Coach Jeremy Uylenbroek offered this assessment of his MVP:  “Cooper was clutch where and when it was needed most. Cooper led our team playing up the middle and hitting in the heart of the order all season. He found himself in pivotal situations where he frequently excelled.”  Criteria for the MVP Awards were four-fold:  best overall player on this year’s team; impressive statistics; contributing to the winning culture of the ball club; and being the first star of many games. Coach Uylenbroek felt that Tomkinson satisfied the criteria for the award because “He also came up big and made the plays or got the hit when it mattered the most all summer season.”

Similar in performance to his 18U counterpart, Jaxen Lehr captured the inaugural 16U MVP Award, but Lehr also distinguished himself as a 2020 double award winner. The versatile 16U infielder was named the organization’s first “Team Over Me” Leadership Award recipient, too.  Lehr’s excellence went beyond MVP status as he was declared an exemplary leader who satisfied the criteria of “selfless excellence on the field coupled with making sacrifices for the team as well as demonstrating the ability to be a leader of men off and on the field.” Director of Baseball Operations Lawrence Vera offered insights into this prestigious award and its first winner:  “The award will forever be close to my heart. It’s an annual award that is given to the player in our organization that leads by example on and off the field. Jaxen was a great student-athlete that was involved with his community and wanted nothing more than success for every single teammate on the field that represented the 'T'.” Coach Jesse Barker was also effusive in his praise of the 16U MVP:  "Jaxen was the leader of the clubhouse and let his play do the talking. Leadoff hitter, versatile in the field having played third, short, second; he also caught, and even played an inning in right field.  Jaxen showed up ready to go every game." In addition to Lehr’s versatility, Coach Barker’s assessment was filled with superlatives regarding the Titan’s leadership and statistical excellence: "The most positive and supportive teammate I have ever coached, the loudest guy on the bench, and really never did stop talking all game long (even to the other bench in most occasions). Jaxen is the first to pick up a teammate, create some noise on the bench, or lead team not only in the batting order but also in hitting with a .563 batting avg. These are Captain-like qualities for this current 17U Infielder who has a bright future in the game of baseball." 

Pitchers of the Year Awards:  Ryan Fisher and Justin Shin

18U and 16U Pitchers of the Year Awards went to Ryan Fisher and Justin Shin, respectively.  18U Coach Uylenbroek assessed his starter in a glowing manner: “Fisher was always eager to do anything and everything for the team.  His lighthearted demeanor helped him keep it cool throughout all situations faced on the bump this year.  Ryan found a way to get out of high leverage situations and get the pop up, pick off, or ground ball when needed most.” In addition to getting the big out, Uylenbroek noted Fisher’s “ability to pitch to contact” and how this “helped him keep his pitch count low and stay in games longer providing a strong and consistent mound presence.” Similarly, 16U Coach Jesse Barker described Shin as “the horse of the rotation” and expressed his confidence in his starter in this manner:  “When we put Shinny’s name next to the P on the lineup card, we knew there was a chance every game that the bullpen would get the day off. He had hitters’ timing off all season long, thanks in part to that devastating breaking ball.” Criteria for the top pitcher awards included being the best pitcher on this year’s staff, garnering impressive stats, and having the best presence on the mound. 

Most Improved Player Awards:  Ethan Kennedy-Munsterman and J.T. Fenn

The Most Improved Players of 2020 were 18U’s Ethan Kennedy-Munsterman and 16U’s  J.T. Fenn who both satisfied the Titans criteria for showing the best improvement in terms of offence and/or defence, improving in mental toughness, and making an impressive jump in numbers. Coach Uylenbroek assessed the steady and statistical improvement of Kennedy-Munsterman over the course of the 18U’s 2020 season:  “Ethan came up with some timely hits at the plate this season.  He seemed to relax, thus alleviating himself of a lot of self-imposed pressure.  Besides a few timely big hits, his constant bat led him to a big jump in his slugging, OBP, and batting averages. Ethan finished the season with the second highest batting average behind our MVP.  Ethan led the team in RBI and was in the top 5 in almost all offensive categories.  Ethan grew as a ball player in many facets of his game and that is why he was the most improved player for us this season.” Coach Barker stressed the hard work put in by his 16U MIP and noted the cause and effect in J.T. Fenn’s summer performance:  "JT is a perfect example of how putting in hard work pays off. Seeing how the hard work and effort JT put into his off season training translated so well into success in the summer should be motivation to all Titans players. JT was a base hit machine for the Titans 16U , and capped off the summer of improvement with his first career HR over the monster LF in Kingston." 

Student-Athlete Performance Award—Reese Irvin

Reese Irvin was the recipient of the “Student-Athlete Performance Award”-- given to the Titans’ player who “achieves Honor Roll status, makes a firm commitment to practice, displays excellence on the field and in academics, and makes an exemplary effort.”  Coach Barker agreed with the selection committee’s appraisal of Irvin’s work as a student-athlete:  "It was no surprise to me to hear about the Academic success Reese has had at Banting; he is an excellent student of the game of baseball which is quite important as a Catcher. Reese made adjustments to his game which brought with them, a .550 average for the summer season, with a late season HR , the first of his career.”  He offered his 16U catcher a personal note about his future with the OCAA Lords: “Keep up the great work, Reese, and good luck with your future education and baseball career at Durham College."

“Charlie Hustle” Award—Nolan Thomson    

The “Charlie Hustle” Award—given to the Titans player who displays excellence on the field, who exemplifies the qualities of grittiness and being a self-starter, who makes extra independent and consistently excellent effort—was given to Nolan Thomson. This organizational award—which stirs up memories of Pete Rose and his gritty play and statistical brilliance—was earned by Thomson for his on-field similarities to the great Cincinnati Red.  Coach Barker noted the similarities in play and results: "What more can you ask for as a coach than a player that quite literally is training at the facility every day, hitting baseballs every day, working out. Those soft toss sessions paid off, and Nolan slugged out a .438 AVG and a 15 RBI summer season. Clutch from day one as a Titan, delivering the Titans first-ever RBI back in Fall Ball, and cashing in runners from the 3 or 4 hole hitter in the line-up." This kind of exemplary diligence and performance is what the selection committee saw in Thomson’s game that elevates our entire Titans program.

Last Words on Titans 2020 Awards

Titans Director of Baseball Operations Lawrence Vera summarized the importance of this first set of awards:  “The Summer of 2020 was definitely not what we expected, but we definitely had some fun, achieved some major accomplishments and, most importantly, saw tremendous improvements in all our players.” He also acknowledged their historical importance:   “These awards will symbolize the history that we are starting to create and these young gentlemen will forever be known as the first recipients. We want to be able to recognize the hard work that is put in to being a high performance athlete and we are excited to start with these 6 awards. We look forward to future Titans pushing themselves to put their stamp on these pieces of hardware that will be looked at for years to come.”  The six Titans historical plaques will be mounted by the clubhouse entrance to the facility so our players can file by their organization’s history as they take the field. Congratulations to Cooper, Ryan, Ethan, Jaxen, Justin, J.T., Reese, and Nolan for your inaugural efforts as 2020 Titans and for establishing the history of our baseball organization. Cheers to all your dedication, hard work, and results over the 2020 baseball season!