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Published: Tuesday, 9/6/2005

Super Hooper: Mud Hens utility player has a blast

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Finally, Larry Parrish got Kevin Hooper off his back.

The Mud Hens and Indianapolis Indians had clinched playoff spots, with the Indians earning theirs Sunday night, so there wasn t much meaning in yesterday s game at Fifth Third Field, the last game of the regular season.

So Parrish, the Hens manager, let Hooper, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound utility infielder, attain a goal he had been asking for permission to attempt the past few weeks.

Hooper played all nine positions in the field, starting at catcher, moving around the infield and then snaking to the outfield.

The video board kept track of his progress using an icon with his head on Superman s body and checking off each position he had visited.

Then Super Hooper saved the game. In front of 8,592 fans, Hooper pitched the ninth inning, allowing no runners for his first career save in a 4-3 win.

I had a blast all day long, Hooper said. We all had fun with it.

The Hens (89-55) finished the regular season with the best record in the regular season with the best record in the International League and the fifth-best winning percentage in Toledo baseball history, best since they returned in 1965. They leave today for Norfolk, Va., to play the Tides in the first round of the IL playoffs starting tomorrow at 7:15 p.m.

This is the best team by far that I ve ever been a part of, starter Jason Grilli said. We don t want it to end. Hopefully we ll go out there and win six more games, win this whole thing.

The Indians (78-66) also had a player, backup catcher Eddie Olszta, tackle a new spot each inning, but Olszta did not make it to catcher because the Indians did not play in the field in the ninth.

Olszta gave up the winning runs in the bottom of the eighth when Brandon Harper hit a two-run double to score Jason Smith and Gookie Dawkins. Olszta had pitched the seventh with no trouble, but the next inning faced the first four batters and did not record an out.

Hooper made three putouts: catching a Grilli strikeout, a diving catch in left field to end the sixth inning and snagging a high fly ball in right field in the eighth.

The Superman theme song was played each time he stepped to the plate.

In the ninth, he forced Bobby Hill to ground out to third, struck out Jorge Velandia swinging and made Paul Chiaffredo ground out to third.

Today was sort of a magical day for him, Parrish said. It worked out.

Hooper had pitched one inning before in his career, with Columbus last season. He had never played catcher, first base or right field and named catcher as the hardest position.

That guy, I will take him No. 1 pick, playing behind me anywhere, Grilli said. You just can t help but love him. That guy plays so hard. He s throwing curveballs, change-ups out there. He was throwing with all his might.

The Hens were behind twice but took the lead in the fifth before regaining it again in the eighth. Smith and Dawkins were each 2-for-3 with an RBI.

There s days that we don t play well, but hardly ever without effort, Parrish said. They continue to play throughout the nine innings. They don t mail it in after five if they re behind.

As Hooper closed out the game, the fans cheered every pitch, and he went out for a curtain call after the team had left the dugout.

It was a special day, something I ll never forget, Hooper said.

Contact Maureen Fulton at:mfulton@theblade.com or 419-724-6160.



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