Damon Topolie the last Hiller standing 24 years after Stratford IBL team folded
By Cory Smith, Stratford Beacon Herald
Photo by Craig Aikin
The Stratford Hillers folded after the 1997 Intercounty Baseball League season, but one player remains from a franchise that won eight titles, the last of which came 27 years ago.
“Summer is awesome in Stratford,” Damon Topolie said. “It’s buzzing. The attention the team got in the summer … the fact I was playing at a stadium and we had a nice locker room and room and board, a house the guys lived at, it was the environment and culture they created there, and it was a winning tradition.”
Topolie, now the field manager and part-time player for Toronto, just missed out on the Hillers’ last championship in 1994. The North Bay native arrived in Stratford the following season, and the Hillers blew a 3-1 lead to the Leafs in the IBL final.
“Jack (Dominico, the Leafs’ longtime owner) reminds me every day we lost,” Topolie said with a laugh.
Stratford’s star infielder Barry Petrachenko missed Game 7 because of a previous engagement, Hillers starting pitcher — Californian Colby Craig — was knocked out of the game early after taking a line drive off the face, and Toronto hurler John Douris wrapped up a dominant series. But the atmosphere, despite the defeat, is what Topolie relished most.
“That’s what I remember about National Stadium — 10 deep down the foul lines,” he said. “It was a great place to play. I loved it.”
There were quirks, like the short porch in right field, a scoreboard on the warning track and a golf course that backed onto the stadium’s outfield fence. Topolie, for a book written by longtime Canadian baseball scribe Bob Elliott, wrote about one incident.