Obituary: John Altobelli (1963-2020)

RIP to John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa. All three were killed on January 26 in a helicopter crash that left nine people dead, including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. Altobelli, 56, was a minor-league outfielder who went on to become a highly respected baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Calabasas, Calif.

“It’s hard to put into words what this loss means to the college and the athletics department,” OCC Athletics Director Jason Kehler said in a story on the OCC Athletics website. “John was a tremendous coach and an even better friend. Beyond that, he was an amazing mentor to all of the students and athletes that he taught and coached. He treated them all like family and his impact will live on forever.”

Altobelli, who was also the manager of the Cape Cod League’s Brewster Whitecaps from 2012 to 2014, was about to start his 28th season at OCC. He compiled a 705-478-4 record at the school for a .592 winning percentage. He also won four state championships, eight trips to the State Final Four and seven Orange Empire Conference championships (including the last three years). His four state baseball championships are tied for the third-most in the history of California Community College baseball, the school noted.

Among the players he coached on their way to the major leagues was the Yankees Aaron Judge and the Mets’ Jeff McNeil. McNeil wrote the following tribute on Twitter to his former coach: “Tough to hear the news of coach Altobelli. One of my favorite coaches I have ever played for and one of the main reasons I got a chance to play professional baseball. Both the baseball and basketball world lost a great one today.”

Altobelli grew up in Mt. Prospect, Ill., before moving to the West Coast with his family when he was in the fifth grade. He played ball at Newport Harbor High School in Newport Beach, Calif. and attended Golden West College in Huntington Beach. He was one of the top hitters among California’s community colleges before transferring to the University of Houston in 1984. In his senior year of 1985, he and the Cougars ended up one game short of making it to the College World Series. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education at Houston and later earned a master of arts degree from Azusa Pacific University.

After graduation, he signed with the Miami Marlins, then a team in the Florida State League. The Marlins, which were an unaffiliated minor league team as far as I can tell, had a mix of veteran ex-major-leaguers, new professional players and career minor-leaguers trying to get noticed. Altobelli hit .114 in 15 games, with 2 stolen bases and five runs scored.

After his brief stay in the minor leagues, Altobelli became an assistant coach at the UC Irvine. He was named a full-time assistant for coach Mike Gerakos. When that school’s baseball program folded in May of 1992, Altobelli wasn’t out of baseball for long. The 29-year-old was named head baseball coach of Orange Coast College in July. His predecessor, Mike Mayne, won 400 games over 15 seasons.

John Altobelli was 29 when he was named OCC head coach. Source: The Tustin News, July 23, 1992.

“I’m thrilled to be here at Orange Coast College, with its great baseball tradition. It’s very exciting to follow in the footsteps of Mike Mayne,” he said. “My future is right here at OCC and I couldn’t be happier.”

Altobelli definitely continued the OCC Pirates’ tradition of baseball excellence. He won four state titles, third most in California Community College Athletic Association history. He was one of only 16 coaches in CCCAA history to reach the 700-win mark. He was named California Coach of the Year four times and the Orange Empire Conference Coach of the Year eight times.

In his final coaching season, Altobelli led the 2019 Pirates to the CCCAA State Championship, becoming the fifth coach in CCC baseball to win four or more state championships. For his success, he was named the American Baseball Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year. OCC was scheduled to start its 2020 season this week. Associate head coach Nate Johnson will take over the team this season, it was announced.

The Altobellis are survived by son J.J. and daughter Lexi. J.J. Altobelli, a former minor-league infielder, works as a scout for the Boston Red Sox.

For more information: (The article, incidentally, was written by Tony Altobelli, the OCC Sports Information Director and John’s brother.)

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