By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
As the news that NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna had perished in a helicopter crash shocked the world, the baseball community also suffered from the heartbreaking events that unfolded in Calabasas, Calif., Sunday afternoon.
Among those that lost their lives in the crash were Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and youngest daughter Alyssa, who was a basketball teammate of Gianna Bryant.
Baylor baseball’s volunteer assistant coach Mitch Karraker, who coached with Altobelli on the national collegiate team in 2016 and was a former teammate of his son J.J. at the University of Oregon, said the news was devastating.
“I think, you know, first you hear about Kobe and that’s of course tragic,” Karraker said. “And then you hear somebody that you know, and that you’re close to. I was shell-shocked, for sure. Found out in the middle of our scrimmage and I felt like my mind just went blank for a couple innings. Just to let it sit in and so it was hard. It was really hard.”
An alum of the University of Houston, Altobelli was a close friend and former roommate of David Pierce, head baseball coach at the University of Texas. In his 27 years at OCC, Altobelli led the Pirates to four state titles and was honored as the national coach of the year at the annual American Baseball Coaches Association. From 2012 to 2014, “Coach Alto” served as the head coach for the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod League, the nation’s premier collegiate summer league, where he got to coach Aaron Judge among other well-known players.
In 2016, he led Team USA to its first series win in Cuba, the same summer that Karraker worked with him as an assistant coach.
“You know, he was the kind of guy that baseball is important, but the way you treat people and the way you go about your business was above anything else,” Karraker said. “When I saw that in the USA team, you know, you get to be with some of the best players in the country, and he was himself. You know, a lot of coaches you see can be a little bit different around those kind of guys and he was just himself — fun-loving, cared about the player as a person more than anything. And that’s that’s my biggest takeaway from Coach Alto.”
Baylor assistant coach Mike Taylor was also familiar with Altobelli after being introduced to him by Pierce during his time coaching at Rice University. Taylor said the impact that Altobelli left on the baseball community was widespread.
“Players that played for him loved him,” Taylor said. “I had three guys that played for him, when I was at Houston, that came over from Orange Coast and those guys absolutely adored him. Infectious smile. I never saw the guy in a bad mood. I mean, he rubbed off on his players. They loved him, they loved playing hard for him.”
Altobelli is survived by his oldest son J.J., now a scout for the Boston Redsox, and his 17-year-old daughter Lexi.