Community Spirit Makes a Team’s Dream Come True

The Titans Elite at Cooperstown.  Photo

Meet the Titans Elite baseball team.They are an age twelve-and-under local travel team made up of players from Merced, Atwater, Chowchilla, and LeGrand. The team has played in tournaments sanctioned by the United States Specialty Sports Association. (USSSA)

A travel team is defined as a group of really good players, sometimes playing for different teams, who form a stand-alone team.This year, the Titans Elite set out to play the game they love in a ballpark connected to baseball tradition. 

They did that, and much more.

Back in 2013, the team put in an application to play in a tournament held in Cooperstown, New York.

We know that Cooperstown is the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.It is also the home of the Cooperstown Dreams Park, a premier destination for travel teams.

The park has twenty-two fields, and the week the Titans played, they were among one-hundred-and-four teams competing from all over the United States.

The tournament was played in early June.The team left central California on June 5th and returned June 11th.

Playing is not cheap.The cost for each player is $895.The same rate applies for coaches. When you add in airfare and other expenses for the week, it was both a distinguished honor and a high price tag to play.The cost for each player for this dream week at the home of baseball was approximately $1,600.

That’s where the community came into play.Coach Kent Floro says the commitment by the players’ families combined with the generosity from the local business community and others helped make it all possible.

Money was raised from local businesses, service clubs such as Merced Breakfast Lions and North Merced Rotary, along with other organizations and individuals who made contributions. 

Titans Elite Players get ready for action at the Cooperstown tournament.  Photo by Titans Elite
Titans Elite Players get ready for action at the Cooperstown tournament. Photo by Titans Elite

Kent provided me with the details of the Titan’s performances on the field in Cooperstown.

Teams representing twenty states were represented in the tournament.The Titans finished in the top twenty-five among the one-hundred-and-four teams.

On the first day of the tournament, they defeated the Mid-Atlantic Shockers from Maryland 19 to 3.Later that day, they beat Thunder Academy from Colorado 21 to 5. 

On the second day, the Titans defeated the Salt City Sox of Utah 11 to 2.Later on day two, they defeated the SBA Life Heat from Florida 8 to 5.

It was then on to day three of the tournament and another Florida team.The Titans beat the PL (Pembroke Lakes) Bulldogs of Florida 12 to 8.Kent says this was a great game for the Titans.

“The Bulldogs are one of top teams in the tournament and were ranked number three in the state of Florida.”

The Titans first loss came after that game when they came up short to the Germantown, Tennessee Giants 13 to 5.

“That was the one game I thought we should have won,” Coach Floro said. “But I think the emotion that it took to beat the Bulldogs earlier combined with the players being a little worn out from the trip all hit at once.”

Then came the single elimination playoffs; single elimination meaning that once you lose, you are out of the tournament.In the first round, the Titans advanced by defeating the Longwood Longballers from Florida 14 to 2.The next step in the playoffs pitted the Titans against the number five top-ranked team: the Utah Marshalls.The Titans were defeated 18 to 5. 

The Titans Elite finish in the top-25 in a 104 team national tournament.  Photo by Titans Elite
The Titans Elite finish in the top-25 in a 104 team national tournament. Photo by Titans Elite

“Titans Elite did outstanding in this tournament,” Coach Floro said. “We are from a small area while many of the other teams were picked from large metropolitan areas or an entire state.”It’s believed some of the teams flew in players to help them on the single-elimination part of the tournament.

The week was full of excitement with many of the young players living away from their families for the first time in their lives.The players had a great experience in the home of baseball. “They represented our community both by playing exceptional baseball and as real gentleman while we were in the camp,” Kent told me.

Jet Lagged and Road Weary, the Titans wait in an airport for the next leg of their journey.  Photo by Titans Elite
Jet Lagged and Road Weary, the Titans wait in an airport for the next leg of their journey. Photo by Titans Elite

The week started with a flight from the west coast to the east coast.After ground transportation from the airport to Cooperstown, the players were sealed away at the camp where they stayed throughout the tournament. Parents could not come into the camp area after the first day.From Friday night until Thursday night the following week, players and coaches were together playing the game they love on their field of dreams.

The Titans Elite outside the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  Photo by Titans Elite
The Titans Elite outside the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Photo by Titans Elite

Visitors cannot go to the village that is the home of baseball without taking in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.Part of the Titans Elite week in Central New York included a day at the Hall of Fame.They saw the plaques of Hall of Fame members, viewed displays of iconic pieces of major league baseball history and took in the natural ambiance that defines this very special place.

Everyone agreed that as great as the Hall of Fame is, no one can truly appreciate all it has to offer the baseball fan in just a one-day visit.

One of the visitors from the Central Valley expressed his feelings from visiting the Hall of Fame in just one word, “Awesome.”

The group likely got a break from the poor summertime air quality in the Valley.Upstate New York, especially in rural areas such as Cooperstown, has some of the cleanest air in the United States.

They probably saw upstate New York agriculture, which is primarily dairy farming.They saw many hills and lots of deep green foliage.New York State, as well as most of the northeast United States, has no drought worries with above-average annual precipitation.

So while the run to the top ended with the loss to the Tennessee team, the Titans Elite can look back on several stunning individual achievements.

Kadon Floro (Coach Kent’s son) made the final round of the Home Run Derby and ended up finishing tied for fifth place. Kadon also had a .520 batting average for the tournament.Other high batting averages were:Hunter Stonier ( .500), Jake Sapien (.435), Gerald Braxton( .409), Danny Murphy (.350), and Aaron Martinez(.300).Home run leaders among the Titans for the tournament included:Kadon Florio with five,Aaron Martinez with four, and Jake Sapien with three. Hunter Stonier, Fernando Ruvalcaba, Gerald Braxton, Cooper Lanz, Cole Schortzmann and Michael Trejo all had one home run each in the tournament. Antonio Cortez and Gerald Braxton teamed up to pitch an outstanding game against the PL Bulldogs.

The Titans came back from their adventure in upstate New York with some outstanding accomplishments that made the communities of Merced, Atwater, Chowchilla and LeGrand proud.Ranking fifth among one-hundred-and-four teams in a national tournament is quite a feat. 

And there’s more to come for the Titans Elite.They have another national tournament coming up in late October that will be played in Las Vegas.

Tournament batting averages, home run tallies, and pitching achievements notwithstanding, the real prize from their week in Cooperstown can be summed up by Coach Floro. 

“It was a memory of a lifetime.”


Gerald Braxton

Louie Ceja

Antonio Cortez

Kadon Floro

Cooper Lanz

Aaron Martinez Jr.

Daniel Murphy II

Nathan Richards

Fernando Ruvalcaba Jr.

Jake Sapien

Cole Schortzmann

Hunter Stonier

Michael Trejo

Coaches: Kent Floro, Neal Richards, Vince Sapien, Tony Cortez, Aaron Martinez

For more on the Cooperstown Dreams Park, visit

Steve Newvine lives in Merced and grew up in a small town about eighty miles north of Cooperstown.He is indebted to Ken Stonier for leading him to the story that became this column.

Remembering on Memorial Day

Merced Memorial Day Ceremony, photo by

Last year in Merced, my wife and I attended one of several ceremonies honoring those who gave their lives in the battles of the nation.

We had not been to one of these ceremonies in quite a while. It was touching as we heard the speeches, viewed the military salute, and experienced the playing of Taps.

Events such as these make me feel sad about the loss of life in our nation’s wars, and at the same time pleased that we take these moments a few times every year to remember the sacrifice by the troops.

Our family took Memorial Day seriously when I was growing up in upstate New York. My grandparents and parents often called it Decoration Day, a term you don’t hear much about anymore.

The rituals for Decoration Day included placing flowers on the grave sites. This was done not only in our village, but at every final resting place for family members within driving distance.

The tradition of traveling to cemeteries that were more than an hour away from our home was maintained by my grandparents while they were still alive. My dad and uncle continue that annual trip now.

On separate occasions in recent years, my sister and I have taken that trip with Dad.

I grew up in the Vietnam era, and was isolated somewhat by the protests on the home front. My uncle served in the Army. Our family supported him with letters. We waited for him to return at the end of his tour of duty.

Once home, we sort of put Vietnam away in a corner of our consciousness as my uncle went back to work. When he died six months later in an automobile crash, any thoughts about the sacrifice he made for his country were replaced with sadness and mourning for a young man whose life ended so early.

It wasn’t until over forty years later that I was better able to understand the kind of sacrifice my uncle and his fellow soldiers made for America. In the section of my book Grown Up, Going Home, I detail my efforts to connect with former soldiers who served with my uncle in Vietnam.

Thanks to a website that was set up just for that particular unit, I connected with the site’s webmaster who not only knew of my uncle in Vietnam, but who also put me in touch with four other soldiers who served alongside Specialist Fourth Class William Newvine.

It was an incredible experience gathering photographs from the webmaster, and speaking by phone to the men who shared up to eighteen months in the Vietnam jungles with my uncle.

As amazing as this experience was, it doesn’t compare with a small piece of paper I still keep in my wallet. On that paper are the names of five soldiers who served with my uncle, and did not make it home.

The five were killed in action. I took that piece of paper with me on a business trip to Washington, DC a few years ago and used it to find their names etched on the walls of the Vietnam Memorial monument.

I will never forget them or their sacrifice.

Close to our home in north Merced, my wife and I occasionally walk past a memorial to a young soldier who lost his life in a sniper attack in Iraq. Marine Corporal Joshua Daniel Pickard was killed six days before Christmas in 2006.

He was twenty years old. The stone memorial includes fresh flowers, an American Flag, and a small wooden statue of a soldier.

The Los Angeles Times obituary of Corporal Pickard mentions his talk before children at the Allan Peterson Elementary School in Merced.

photo by steve newvine

photo by steve newvine

In the obituary, he was quoted by a family member as saying there were more good people than bad in Iraq and how it was an honor and privilege to support the good people of that country.

I didn’t know Corporal Pickard and I didn’t know the five men who lost their lives in the unit my uncle served with in Vietnam.

I hope they know that our country appreciates what they did. At least every Memorial Day we have the opportunity to stand back and reflect on the sacrifices our armed forces have made during the many wars throughout our nation’s history.

For more on the soldiers from the 22nd Infantry:

For a video on the memorial service for Marine Corporal Joshua Daniel Pickard: 

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.