Powering Prudently through the Pandemic

by Jim Stewart

2020 was a challenging year for all aspects of society. Starting a high performance baseball program amid the consequences of the worst global pandemic since 1918 provided a unique set of challenges ranging from provincial and regional lockdowns to safety concerns to pervasive fears to facility closures and ballpark permit restrictions.  The Titans Front Office and Coaching Staff remained undaunted by these COVID-19-related developments and set in motion a safe and effective return-to-play program for its 60+ players that included a seamless transition from the Fergie Jenkins Showcase League to the Canadian Premier Baseball League. 

Our promise to deliver;

Our players took to the field in July, August, and September in professional Nike uniforms to show off our brand to the FJSL and CPBL.  Our offseason training program was in place with the hiring of Alex Stewart as our internationally-certified strength coach who holds a Health Sciences degree from Graceland University (Lamoni, Iowa) and is a USA and Canadian-certified trainer.  He led indoor lifting sessions in the Fall and is continuing these through Zoom while the province remains in lockdown to close 2020. While our three tournaments in the USA were scuttled due to the closure of land crossings at the USA-Canada border, our players were sufficiently promoted as ten Titans signed USA College commitments despite the border restrictions. As the first wave of the Pandemic waned, we reopened the True North Fieldhouse to small groups of four to larger groups of eight to full team practices as municipalities eased restrictions. We followed all “Return-to- Play” safety protocols in both the FJSL and CPBL to ensure our players were protected from the coronavirus during our outdoor Summer and Fall seasons.  Our coaches and players made important contributions to their community through three initiatives:  raising $1065 for the Southlake Hospital Foundation through the active participation in the Southlake 5K; raising $2333 for the Movember Foundation through the active participation in the Players-Coaches Charity game; earning community service time towards their high school diploma through 10 hours of volunteer work at the Titans First Annual Golf Tournament at National Pines Golf Course. 

True North Fieldhouse; our clean and spacious indoor facility in Newmarket;

Our players and coaches were able to access the True North Fieldhouse all summer in an upgraded setting that included more weights and new L-screens, ball baskets, nine-squares, and two MLB professional indoor mounds.  Students were hired to clean the facility, including Allison from Dalhousie University, who helped us sanitize TNF and maintain municipal protocols. 

Our home diamond;

Saint Andrew’s College shut down their entire recreational facility-- including their football field, hockey rink, and baseball diamond-- to all community groups due to COVID-19 concerns and severe restrictions placed on York Region.  The Titans Baseball Club pivoted and entered into agreements with municipalities outside of York Region including New Tecumseth which provided Tottenham Community Centre as our home away from home for the summer.  When restrictions were eased but SAC remained closed, the Titans entered into partnerships with Georgina and Markham to use the ROC and Milliken Mills, respectively.  The Titans were also able to host a 2-day camp at Stewart Burnett Park in Aurora during early-September to kick off the Fall Ball program.  Players were tested for 60 yard speed, pro-agility, position velocity, and exit velocity.  A healthy lunch was served both days and players were treated to a pep talk by former MLB player and national baseball hero Peter Orr at the camp. The Titans are excited to use SAC in 2021 with initial discussions indicating that it will be home to the Titans next Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Coaching and front office staff’s youthful energy and wisdom;

The Original Six coaches of the Titans—Lawrence Vera, Jesse Barker, John Bethune, Jeremy Uylenbroek, John Rose, and Andrew White-- guided their 18U and 16U teams through the Fergie Jenkins Showcase Regular Season.  All games were within a bubble that limited player contacts in compliance with Return-to-Play protocols.  After Andrew White accepted a promotion with the Barrie Baycats and John Rose began his policing career, The Titans Baseball Club announced the signing of Eddie McKiernan as our new Pitching Coordinator.  Coach McKiernan was born and raised in Southern California who was drafted in the 17th round of the MLB draft by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as a pitcher. He pitched 6 seasons with the Angels organization. The Titans also hired the following coaches-- Alex Crocco, Alex Stewart, Denis Bailey, John Michael Tashos, Paul Barker, Sean Demelo, Nick Dimpfel, and Brayden Byers-- to staff four teams as the club doubled in size with squads at the 15U, 16U, 17U, and 18U levels.  Jeremy Uylenbroek, Lawrence Vera, Jesse Barker, and John Bethune were named 2020-21 head coaches of the 18U, 17U, 16U, and 15U teams, respectively. The nine newest Titans coaches, along with the four remaining original coaches, took their places for the Fall Ball season and guided our new CPBL expansion teams to successful autumn campaigns where the organizational emphasis was on player development. Please see all our coaching profiles on the Titans Baseball Club’s website.

The Canadian Premier Baseball League;

The Titans Baseball Club would like to thank the Fergie Jenkins Showcase League for giving our teams a place to play during the summer.  Our team slugged their way through the schedule and stayed safe due to the FJSL’s excellent protocols. However, one of the biggest news items involving the Titans was being granted an expansion franchise to join the CPBL on July 9, 2020.  Our press release summarized this milestone: 

“The Canadian Premier Baseball League welcomed the Titans Baseball Club as its newest expansion franchise.  Ontario’s top Elite loop embarked on an unprecedented expansion, boosting its teams from six to eleven for 2020-21. Despite being in only its first year of operation, the Titans were selected to join the province’s most prestigious league—a feather in the cap of a fledgling high performance baseball organization. League President Chris Robinson welcomed the five new franchises and praised the original six franchises in his press release:  “We have a strong belief in the product within the league that the original franchises have developed, and by adding five more exciting and reputable franchises, we look to make the league that much more competitive.” Director of Player Development and Baseball Operations Lawrence Vera was pleased by the Titans’ promotion to the CPBL.  He acknowledged the quality of the league and its implications for Titans players:  “Having the Titans in the CPBL gives our players the opportunity to play against the best competition in the province.”  Vera added that “Our players have their dreams set on attending post-secondary schools in the USA and Canada. Playing in the CPBL is only going to help them achieve these goals.” Coach Vera acknowledged the challenges of playing in such a superior league as an expansion franchise:  “While the Titans organization is still young, we have made some explosive moves to ensure that our players are getting the most value for their investment.  Joining the CPBL is one of those foundation-boosting moves.  It adds another layer to our program that already had a robust development plan offered to our players.”  Joining the Titans as CPBL expansion franchises will be the Windsor Selects, Watson Elite Baseball Club (Ottawa), the Terriers Baseball Club, and the Ontario Royals (Oakville).  This ambitious expansion transforms the CPBL into a truly province-wide league with teams based in Windsor (Selects), St. Mary’s (Nationals), London (Canadians), Burlington (Pirates), Oakville (Royals), Mississauga (Jays and Terriers), Toronto (Mets), Vaughan (Astros), Newmarket-Aurora (Titans), and Ottawa (Watson EBC).”

Our fifth organizational pillar was thus established in July during a summer of COVID-19-related challenges.  Our players finally competed against CPBL clubs in September exhibition games, after the CPBL cancelled its 2020 regular season.

Our commitment to our student-athletes;

Over sixty plus Zoom calls were completed with Titans families during November and December as Jim Stewart (Education Compliance Officer), Lawrence Vera (Director of Baseball Operations and Player Development), Denis Bailey (US College Placement Officer), and respective Head Coaches met with each player for up to an hour to review report cards and establish academic goals, provide feedback on baseball performance during Fall Ball and establish baseball goals for the offseason, and to discuss US College and Canadian University aspirations and options.  These successful Zoom conferences—conducted on-line due to COVID-19 lockdowns in Toronto, Peel, and York—showed the organization’s commitment to our student-athletes.  On-line academic help was provided to our student-athletes as they received timely feedback on their school projects and writing assignments to augment their academic performance.  Over 75% of our student-athletes made the Honor Roll during Semester One.  The cancellation of SAT testing by the College Board and the pandemic’s impact on school choices postponed two planned SAT sittings with Sylvan.  These in-house practice tests will resume in 2021 for our players who wish to attend four-year colleges in the USA, if the College Board determines that SAT scores will once again be entrance requirements in 2022. The Titans achieved an enviable placement of players, despite the social upheaval and tumultuous times created by the pandemic.  

The table below delineates the destinations of our 2021 class thus far, with more good news to follow in Winter 2021: 

Matt Brandt

Spalding University - Louisville, Kentucky


Cooper Tomkinson

Dodge City Community College - Dodge City, Kansas


Graham Sim

Sussex County Community College - Newton, New Jersey


Reese Irvin

Durham College - Oshawa, Ontario


Jake Merante

University of Rio Grande - Rio Grande, Ohio


Alex Kok

Northampton Community College - Bethlehem, Pennsylvania


Giuseppe Sisca

Russell Sage College - Troy, New York


Chryz Gelacio

Western Technical College - La Crosse, Wisconsin


Massimo Amantea

SUNY Adirondack - Queensbury, New York


Tyler Larguinho

Lincoln Trail College - Robinson, Illinois


This class complements our Class of 2020—Alex Kok (Rockingham CC, North Carolina); Dylan Campese, Hunter Campese, and Lucas Tota-Madden (Queen’s University), Ethan Moulds (Wilfred Laurier University), Ryan Fisher (Durham College), and Nolan Plunkett (University of Guelph) who stayed in Canada due to concerns related to the coronavirus and a pandemic out of control in some American states. The Titans Baseball Club also rewarded its student-athletes for their commitment to the program by unveiling the 2020 Player Award Winners.  MVP Awards went to Cooper Tomkinson (18U) and Jaxen Lehr (16U). 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.  Pitchers of the Year Awards were earned by Ryan Fisher (18U) and Justin Shin (16U). Most Improved Player Awards were given to Ethan Kennedy-Munsterman (18U) and J.T. Fenn (16U). Two other organizational awards were introduced to the club’s culture with the Student-Athlete Performance Award going to Reese Irvin and the “Charlie Hustle” Award was given to Nolan Thomson. 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. 

In summation, it’s being a productive and successful year for the Titans Baseball Club and we look forward to serving our community of players and parents in the New Year of 2021.