May 28, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Altobelli ‘helped players become better people,’ says former UCI Coach Mike Gerakos

John Altobelli (middle) joined former UCI women’s basketball coach Dean Andrea (left) and UCI baseball coach Mike Gerakos during a fund-raising golf tournament when the three were at UCI. (Photo courtesy Gerakos family))

Coach John Altobelli’s death has stunned the Orange Coast College community and the baseball coaches who knew him.

Among those dealing with the death of the long-time OCC coach is former UC Irvine baseball coach Mike Gerakos. Gerakos, like many others, was sadddened to hear that the 56-year-old Altobelli had died along with eight others in a helicopter crash in Calabasas on Sunday.

“He helped the players become better people as well as baseball players,” said Gerakos, who coached at UCI for 12 years. “He loved his famly, he was a great friend. It’s just a tragedy.”

Altobelli was an assistant for Gerakos at UCI from 1988 until 1992 when the university disbanded baseball, before later bringing it back under Coach John Savage.

“John was always a great competitor,” said Gerakos, who is now an assistant coach at Corona del Mar. “I tried to get him to control his emotions and sometimes that was a challenge. He was such a competitor and cared about what he was doing.

“He was part of the family for five years. His mom and dad Pat and Jim would come to the games and support us and Tony (his brother) was our PA announcer those last few years, so it was like a family affair.”

Gerakos said that Altobelli was always proud of his family.

“Every time I asked John how they were doing, he would say, ‘we’re doing great.’ He would tell me about JJ and one of the daughters was playing basketball and one was playing tennis and he was so proud and supportive… what a shock.”

Gerakos said that Altobelli was one of a number of great assistants he had.

“He fit in right at the beginning,” Gerakos said. “I’ve been fortunate I had a great staff and Alto was right with them all in terms of being a great coach,” Gerakos said.

When the UCI program was dropped, Altobelli went to OCC where he went on to win four state titles and seven Orange Empire Conference titles.

Gerakos was able to get to some of the OCC games and followed Altobelli’s success.

“We would talk often and I would go to some of his games and they would win a big game or win a state championship and I congratulated him and told him, ‘I live vicariously through your success at OCC, it’s pretty cool John,'” Gerakos said.

Gerakos also texted Altobelli after the Pirates won the state title last year.

“He was so humble with his success, and credited his assistants and the players,” Gerakos said.

Altobelli attended Gerakos’ retirement party in June of 2018 when he stepped down as University High’s head coach. Gerakos said Altobelli told those in attendance that his job when he was at UCI was “cussing and arguing with the umpires.”

Gerakos said he plans to be at OCC Tuesday for the pre-game ceremony honoring Altobelli.

“I know where I’m going to be,” he said. “It’s going to be emotional for quite a while. It’s a big void.”

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com