TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — People in southeastern Hillsborough County could spot Coach Rich Luppino a mile away. He drove a white Chevy HHR that was painted like a baseball. For over a decade, he coached and ran camps at the Bloomingdale and Fishhawk Ranch ball fields. On Wednesday night, Luppino passed away.
Stacey Donahue’s son was 4-years old when he started training with Coach Luppino. He’s 16-years old now and devastated.
“He treated these kids at this park like they were a part of his family,” said Donahue, who appreciated the coach’s life lessons. “How this game could teach you a lot about life — and that was important to him. To teach kids that as much as you love baseball, there is more to life too.”
Parents and coaches weren’t speculating on Coach Luppino’s cause of death, but they said he had battled illness in the past, and always bounced back. Tony Baroni is a fellow coach and thought he would see Coach Rich on the field again.
“You just thought that he would figure it out. Like, there is no way he wouldn’t overcome it — whatever it was,” Baroni said. “Just kind of a tough guy. I think of Coach Luppino, just a very powerful person.”
Michele Becker is a softball coach at Bloomingdale, and worked closely with Coach Rich. She came to the field on Thursday to bring flowers and eat lunch at ‘their’ bench.
“Oh, he was an awesome icon for the community,” Becker said. “It’s a tremendous loss for everybody. All around this area. Not only in the softball world, the baseball world, it’s just heartbreaking, honestly.”
Ava Moores was one of his players. She said the coach never gave up on her.
“He taught me everything I know about softball,” Moores said. “He taught us everything that we know. “
Funeral arrangements for Coach Rich Luppino have not been finalized.