The tragic helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant on Sunday didn’t just send shock waves through the basketball world.
According to several reports, one of the other victims was John Altobelli, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., for over two decades. Altobelli also served as the head coach for three seasons for the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod League from 2012-14.
In his first season with Brewster, Altobelli coached Aaron Judge and Jeff McNeil. Both players reacted on social media following the crash.
“Tough to hear the news of coach Altobelli,” McNeil wrote on Twitter. “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.”
McNeil played for Brewster after his sophomore season at Long Beach State, shifting between second base and the outfield over the course of 40 games.
McNeil told ESPN he had a poor first two years at Long Beach State. His coaches there asked Altobelli to bring McNeil to Brewster anyway.
“He took a chance on me, kept me the whole summer. Him taking that chance on me, having me on his team, got me drafted,” McNeil said.
Judge, who was teammates with McNeil on the 2012 Brewster team, wrote on Twitter, “This isn’t real…’’
The 56-year-old Altobelli was about to enter his 24th season as head coach at OCC in Southern California. His daughter, Alyssa, was a teammate of Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, and the families were traveling together to the team’s game on the helicopter when it crashed in Calabasas on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Alyssa and Altobelli’s wife, Keri, were also killed.
Altobelli’s son, JJ, is a scout for the Red Sox.
Judge made an impression on Altobelli in their summer working together on the Cape following Judge’s sophomore season at Fresno State.
“We’d watch him take batting practice and it looked like he was hitting Pro V1 gold balls out of the ballpark,’’ Altobelli told MLB.com in 2017. “Teams would stop what they were doing to watch him take batting practice. … He had some legendary shots, that’s for sure.’’
Altobelli was also present during a workout Judge took part in that summer at Fenway Park.
“The ease of his swing, the way the [hits] sounded, especially with no fans in the stadium,” Altobelli said of Judge, who hit five homers in 32 games for Brewster. “It was a different sound than everyone else.”
Altobelli kept tabs on how Judge played in The Bronx — and said he wasn’t surprised by his former player’s success.
“You knew,” Altobelli told the Los Angeles Times in 2017. “You just knew. His size and how the ball jumped off his bat and how he could run for a big guy. … He was just as humble as can be, just a super nice kid.”
And he kept in touch with the emerging star.
“When he hit his first big-league home run [in 2016[, I texted him to congratulate him,” Altobelli said in 2017. “He responded: ‘Coach, you’re the one who told me to swing the bat three times hard and see what happens.’ I know I didn’t have an impact on his career by any means, but it was good that he remembered me saying that. It’s neat to see his rise.”