CALABASAS, Calif. — John Altobelli, the longtime baseball coach at Orange Coast College, was killed along with his wife and daughter in the helicopter crash Sunday that also took the lives of retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna.
Altobelli, 56, died along with his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, who was about 13 and played on the same basketball team as Bryant’s daughter, said Altobelli’s younger brother, Tony Altobelli, the sports information director at the school. They were among the nine people aboard the helicopter when it crashed around 10 a.m. Sunday in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
John Altobelli spent 27 seasons as coach at the community college in Costa Mesa, California. The team won a state championship last year and Altobelli was named national coach of the year. He led the team to more than 700 victories and four state titles.
He coached players that became major-leaguers, including Aaron Judge of the Yankees, Jeff McNeil of the Mets, and Donnie Murphy, who played for six big-league teams from 2004-14. McNeil played for Altobelli in 2012 with the Brewster Whitecaps, a summer collegiate team in the Cape Cod League, ESPN reported.
“One of my favorite coaches I have ever played for and one of the main reasons I got a chance to play professional baseball,” McNeil tweeted. “Both the baseball and basketball world lost a great one today.”
Orange Coast College announced the creation of a memorial fund for the Altobelli family.
“John meant so much to not only Orange Coast College, but to baseball,” athletic director Jason Kehler said in a statement. “He truly personified what it means to be a baseball coach. The passion that he put into the game, but more importantly his athletes, was second to none — he treated them like family.”
“He treated every player like his own son,” Orange Coast first baseman Justin Brodt told The Orange County Register. “He wanted the best for everybody involved. That’s what made him such a successful coach and such a great guy.”
On Sunday, coaches, friends and former players gathered at the baseball field on the Costa Mesa campus where Altobelli had been known to mow the grass until turf was installed. They swapped memories of Altobelli laying down carpet in the locker room, chiding the umpire during games, dressing as a pirate for Halloween and providing endless support to his students.
Nate Johnson, associate head coach, looked around the field and said none of it would have been possible without the man known as “Alto.” Flowers were laid at home plate.
“This whole thing — I joke, it’s the house that Alto built, because he built it all,” he said.
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