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Former coach of Judge dies in crash with Bryant

@MannyOnMLB
January 27, 2020

Longtime Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and his daughter Alyssa were victims of the helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., that killed everyone aboard Sunday, including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. The group was reportedly flying to the girls' travel basketball

Longtime Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and his daughter Alyssa were victims of the helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., that killed everyone aboard Sunday, including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. The group was reportedly flying to the girls' travel basketball game.

Altobelli, who also coached future MLB stars like Aaron Judge and Jeff McNeil in the Cape Cod League, was the longest-tenured baseball coach in Orange Coast College history. He led the Pirates to four California Community College Athletic Association championships, including in 2019, when he was named an American Baseball Coaches Association National Coach of the Year. During the 2019 season, he collected the 700th win of his coaching career.

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From 2012-14, Altobelli was the head coach of the prestigious Cape Cod League's Brewster Whitecaps, where he mentored several future Major League players. Altobelli spoke of the easy power Judge had and knew he was destined for a great professional career.

"The effortless swing that he had; a lot of guys were going max effort, grunting as they tried to hit them over the [Green] Monster so they could have something to talk about," Altobelli told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand in 2018. "The ease of his swing, the way the [hits] sounded -- especially with no fans in the stadium -- it was a different sound than everyone else."

After learning of the tragedy, Judge expressed his shock and sorrow in a tweet that read, "This isn't real ..."

McNeil tweeted that Altobelli was "one of my favorite coaches I have ever played for and one of the main reasons I got a chance to play professional baseball." He added that "both the baseball and basketball world lost a great one today."

McNeil told ESPN's Jeff Passan that after struggling in college, Altobelli brought him onto his Cape Cod team anyway.

“He took a chance on me, kept me the whole summer,” McNeil said. “Him taking that chance on me, having me on his team, got me drafted."

Other future Major League players Altobelli coached there include the Phillies' Scott Kingery, the Reds' Michael Lorenzen, the Mariners' Braden Bishop, the Brewers' Ryon Healy, the D-backs' Luke Weaver and the Nationals' Austin Voth. Altobelli also coached the Reds' Boog Powell and the Mariners' Brandon Brennan at Orange Coast College.

"I'm honestly at a loss for words," Bishop told MLB.com's William Boor via text message. "Definitely a tough pill to swallow with the whole situation. It was an honor to play for Alto and everything he stood for. I can remember him pulling me aside and giving me pieces of advice during the summer in the cape. He was mellow, had a lot of wisdom and knew how to push his teams in the right direction. It's tragic, and I'm honestly shocked -- I think everyone is. He will be missed."

Prior to being named head coach at OCC, Altobelli was assistant to UC-Irvine head baseball coach Mike Gerakos for five years. Altobelli played collegiate baseball for the University of Houston, where he was a star outfielder and helped lead the Cougars to within one game of the College World Series in 1985.

University of Houston head baseball coach Todd Whitting said he is "absolutely devastated." He added that "not only was [Altobelli] a great supporter of the UH program, but he was a great friend. He had such a zest for life and was a tremendous friend to all of us that were close to him."

Altobelli is survived by his son J.J., who is a scout for the Red Sox, and his daughter Alexis.

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.