Orange Coast College honors baseball coach John Altobelli after his death in Kobe Bryant helicopter crashJanuary 29, 2020
The Orange Coast College baseball team opened its season Tuesday, two days after the death of coach John Altobelli, and after the game, joined Lexi Altobelli in mourning her father.
Altobelli, the Pirates' coach of 27 years, was among nine who died Sunday in the helicopter crash that also killed Kobe Bryant. Lexi also lost her mother, Keri Altobelli, and 13-year-old sister, Alyssa Altobelli, in the accident. John, Keri and Alyssa were traveling to Alyssa's basketball game at the Mamba Sports Academy.
"Are you OK with hugs from the rest of the guys?" associate head coach Nate Johnson asked Lexi after the game against Southwestern College, per ESPN.
"Absolutely," she responded.
Lexi sat alongside her brother, J.J., a scout for the Boston Red Sox, all game. Throughout the game, Johnson would jog down the right-field line to hug Lexi.
"It was very heartbreaking because we only got a little bit of it," OCC player Nolan Funke told ESPN. "He was just our coach. He wasn't our father. Even though we all felt like he was, we didn't experience that bond that they did. Just seeing them out there, it really put it into a different light."
Orange Coast College associate coach Nate Johnson hugged his wife after giving a speech at a ceremony honoring John Altobelli. (Photo: ALEX GALLARDO, EPA-EFE)
Johnson, who was elevated to associate head coach at the beginning of the season, kept an open seat during the game to honor Altobelli.
"You're sitting there, and you're making all these decisions that the man who you looked up to, who mentored you, was making the last seven years," Johnson said. "It won't hit me for a while."
The game was postponed in the ninth inning due to darkness. Orange Coast was trailing Southwestern College by one run.
Banners draped by the field read, "The House that Alto built" and "Forever a Pirate." Flowers and commemorative items were on display. New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole was in attendance.
Altobelli was a legendary junior college coach who won more than 700 games and four state championships in his nearly three decades coaching the Pirates. Last year's team won a program-record 39 games, claiming the state title.
John Altobelli's brother, Tony, spoke to the crowd before the game and thanked the OCC community for its love and support. His father, Jim, also spoke to the crowd.
"You know, kids are not supposed to die before I do," he said. "And that's something that I've heard for years and realize how tough that is. But in learning through all this, I've learned, 'Don't take tomorrow for granted.' You don't know if you'll have a tomorrow."
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