Sidearm Stories: Solazzo at 300
By Carlos Verde
At Ottawa Stadium, a young Johnathan Solazzo takes his first few tentative hacks as an Intercounty Baseball League player.
The date is May 16th, 2010.
Katy Perry's California Gurls has just been released, Instagram does not exist and Alexei Ponikarovsky is still a member of the (hockey) Leafs.
Solazzo's line on the day is an ugly one, the kind that reflects the Sunday-in-Ottawa, late-night team bonding reality: The young Mississauga Twin goes 0-for-3, two strikeouts, and the visitors drop a 5-1 decision.
"We loved it when Ottawa was in the league, we definitely went out and bonded as teammates," laughs Solazzo some 13 years later, still playing — and now a bona fide star — in the Intercounty League. "It was a tough game on the Sunday there, their pitcher (Danny Desclouds) was throwing good and got me twice."
It's a warm Wednesday evening at Christie Pits; Solazzo's Toronto Maple Leafs are preparing to host the Kitchener Panthers, and the 32-year-old third baseman just eclipsed the career 300-RBI mark four days prior.
"It's been a career," he chuckles. "I've met lots of people, lots of friends who I'd consider best friends and even family.
"It's been something special for me, (and) I've played with greats and coaches that coached me when I was little."
Solazzo at 32, an established veteran in a league, is an entirely different person than the Mississauga Twins rookie from that afternoon in Ottawa.
"I wasn't the greatest kid, and I've learned a lot of valuable lessons," he readily admits. "Now I'm working with CN Rail as a conductor, grinding out nights (and) it's a battle — but I'm happy with where I'm at, trying to stay humble and enjoy the ride."
There's a long-term girlfriend, Kim, in the picture, and the constant hustle that defined Solazzo's career: On the ball field, in the gym, in life.
"We've been dating for three years now, that's something special and we're talking next steps (so) that's obviously exciting," says the towering Mississauga product. "Grinding it out with work, working side businesses in concrete with my friends. I'm a busy guy, but I'm happy and really enjoying life."
His milestone came in the midst of a ridiculous five-game stretch during which he hit .450 and drove in 17 runs, and the Leafs — 6-2 and fresh off a dominant win over Kitchener — are once again a force to be reckoned with.
"To win a championship with Toronto would be amazing, ever since Jack (Dominico) brought me over from Hamilton we always wanted to win it for him," reflects Solazzo, who paced the Leafs with 47 RBI in 2022. "To win it with this group of guys would be incredible — for us, for the fans, the Bushmen, for my parents up there.
"It would be really special."