Where Are They Now?
By Chris Bernhardt | Hernando TodayEditor's note: This is the third story in a series highlighting Hernando High's 2012 Sports Hall of Fame inductees.
Published: September 29, 2012
Published: September 29, 2012
Looper Sports Connection should ring some bells for anyone involved in local athletics in Brooksville.
Located at 7631 Horse Lake Road the past three years, the business has operated under that name for 10 years, incorporating the last name of the current owner.
That would be Eddie Looper, a 47-year-old Brooksville native and 1982 Hernando High graduate.
Next month he'll return to his alma mater, where he built an athletic legacy in three sports, as one of the new inductees into the Hernando High Sports Hall of Fame.
"It's definitely a great honor and I just appreciate the nomination, and to get in is a great honor," Looper said.
Looper once started at quarterback and point guard for the Leopards, and certainly performed well in each of those capacities.
But it's baseball where he truly left his mark, both at Hernando and beyond.
"First of all he had good skills," said Ernie Chatman, who coached Looper in baseball and basketball. "You don't make it to the level he got to without great skills.
"He loved the game. He played baseball since he was able to pick up a bat, ball and glove. He had a lot of fun playing the game, so it was easy for him to play day after day."
Looper's greatest claim to fame is being among the handful of county residents drafted to play Major League Baseball.
The St. Louis Cardinals made him the 23rd pick of the 21st round of the 1986 June Amateur Draft.
But his playing days began much earlier than that, when he started in baseball as a 7-year-old in the Hernando Youth League.
He additionally participated in youth football, and picked up basketball in middle school.
"Ever since I was little, I didn't care what it was as long as I was playing a sport," Looper said. "I just always enjoyed playing.
"Baseball has always been my favorite. And being able to do it for so many years, I enjoyed it. It's been a great part of my life."
During his four years with the Leopards, he left his mark in several areas.
On the gridiron, he started at defensive back as well as quarterback, and set a season and career school record for interceptions.
His 10 picks in 1980 established a county mark that still stands today, though it was tied by Nature Coast's Michael Fields in 2007.
As a junior and senior, he was an All-Gulf Coast Athletic Conference selection and tabbed for the Tampa Tribune All-Area Team.
That senior season, he helped Hernando reach the equivalent of a regional final in Class 3A.
He garnered similar accolades on the baseball field. Primarily a second baseman known for defense and solid hitting, he was a Tampa Tribune All-Area Team and All-GCAC pick as a junior and senior in that sport, as well.
"He was a great teammate and one of those types that made his teammates better," Chatman said. "I never saw him not have an upbeat attitude.
"He matured physically a lot more when he went to college. But he was a good contact hitter. He was going to give you a good at-bat. He understood the strike zone, took a walk when there was one to be taken, and he put the ball in play."
Also, he was named the Tampa Tribune All-Area Athlete of the Year in 1982.
"I loved it," Looper said. "I looked forward to being out there with the guys, working. I loved my time out on the field playing.
"There were a few times I'd play a baseball game in the afternoon and play a basketball game that night. It was great times. I had great teams, great coaches, great friendships, great teammates; some great memories."
Looper also played a role on three Dixie World Series teams out of HYL, and Chatman relayed an anecdote from those times that spoke to Looper's character.
"We were playing in the World Series in 1981 in Laurel, Mississippi," Chatman said. "His first time against Virginia he hit a home run. His second time up he hit a home run. His third time up, I asked him to bunt.
"The guy on first said, 'Why did he have you bunt there?' He said, 'It's what I was told to do, so that's what I'm going to do.'"
Florida State offered Looper an opportunity to join its football team as a punter. But he felt more comfortable playing baseball at a smaller institution.
Along with several of his Leopard teammates — including current Hernando head coach Tim Sims — he spent two years at Seminole Community College. The school out of Sanford is now known as Seminole State College of Florida.
He played mostly third base and was co-Player of the Year for the Mid-Florida Conference as a sophomore.
That year, several SEC schools showed interest. A recruiter from The University of Alabama came down one game to catch a glimpse of Looper's roommate, Sims.
"It was one of those things. I had a good game," Looper said. "After the game, (the recruiter) said he was interested in me, as well.
"We visited Alabama. We liked the coaches there. We really enjoyed the trip to Tuscaloosa and wanted to go there together."
So they did, with Looper playing both first and third base for the Crimson Tide. He was a Second Team All-SEC selection his senior season.
"To be able to, number one, have an opportunity to play in the SEC, I was very fortunate to be able to do that," Looper said. "To step in and play at a great school like The University of Alabama, there's a great tradition."
After that, he joined the Cardinals, spending four years in their farm system.
He played for three different teams, advancing as far as the high Single-A level. He appeared in 297 games, the majority at third base.
For his professional career, he hit .253 with 20 home runs and 129 runs batted in.
Following the 1989 season, he succumbed to a multitude of injuries and accepted an offer to coach for the Major League team.
During a two-year stint with the Cardinals, he handled a variety of duties, including bullpen catcher and batting practice pitcher.
"It was a chance of a lifetime to experience that," Looper said.
While serving as a coach, he received two spring training plate appearances. One was a sacrifice bunt. The other was a base hit up the middle off former Major League reliever Mike Stanton.
He was eventually replaced on staff by Cardinals manager Joe Torre, who had taken over for Whitey Herzog in 1990.
That's when he returned home to Brooksville, where he still lives with his wife of nearly 15 years, Jennifer, and their two sons, Hunter, 10, and Palmer, 6.
Over the years he has coached in youth leagues and ran clinics, remaining quite active in the community.
The connection only strengthened when he took over his sporting goods store from his brother-in-law, former Major League pitcher Mike Walker.
"It's very rewarding," Looper said. "The way things are these days, when you own your own business and the doors are still open, it's a blessing in itself. To be able to do this for 10 years is even more gratifying.
"We just do the very best we can. We've been very blessed."
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