May 22, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Baseball’s tight-knit community shows respect for Coach John Altobelli’s family

Members of the Saddleback College baseball team were among those in attendance Monday. (Photo Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone)

College baseball coaches and players showed up in big numbers Monday at Angel Stadium to honor former Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, who was killed along with eight others in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jan. 26.

The tight-knit baseball community showed once again how really tight it is.

To see the slide show, please click on the first photo

All the teams from the Orange Empire Conference, the conference that Orange Coast College plays in, attended the celebration of life for Coach Altobelli, his wife Keri and the couple’s 13-year-old daughter Alyssa.

Two large flags were placed at the front of Angel Stadium by members of the Costa Mesa and Anaheim Fire Departments.

“That was something pretty special to John because of his involvement with the fire department,” said family friend Guy Lemmon, who on behalf of the Ryan Lemmon Foundation organized the event.

“Every school from the Orange Empire Conference is going to be here. Each of the eight teams are coming in uniform.”

In addition, Lemmon noted that El Camino College’s team, which lost to Orange Coast College in the state finals, was in attendance.

“Apparently, they had a very competitive relationship but an inordinate amount of respect,” Lemmon said. “So as a result of that, Tony (Coach Altobelli’s brother) reached out to El Camino three or four days ago, and said, ‘we would like you to attend.’

El Camino accepted the invitation. There were also a number of Orange Empire Conference and high school umpires planning to be in attendance, Lemmon said.

“There are a bunch of different people honoring the family,” Lemmon said.

Lemmon can relate to what the Altobelli family was going through. He lost his son, Ryan Lemmon, a Woodbridge baseball player who died in a car accident while in college.

Coach Altobelli’s son, JJ, a former Woodbridge High standout, was at the tribute and spoke briefly in front of the guests. He and his fiance are engaged to be married in July.

“I think pretty good,” Lemmon said when askedhow Altobelli was doing. “I talk with him and his fiance and I just know from my own experience, this week, all this love elevates your sadness but it’s the weeks and months that follow when everybody else’s life goes back to normal.

“J’J’s life is going to be different. It will get to normal, but it’s different, it seems like he’s doing well and he has an inordinate number of friends. I think the outpouring of care is a lot.”

Altobelli’s sister, Sissy Oberlin, athletic secretary at Beckman and his brother Tony were among family members in attendance.

Media members were asked not to interview members of the Altobelli family out of respect to the family.

Coach Altobelli’s death devasted the baseball community around Southern California.

New Cal State Northridge coach Dave Serrano showed his respects by attending the celebration. Serrano used to coach at Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine.

“John and I obviously had a relationship through coaching,” Serrano said. “There are many other coaches here that were a lot closer personally. I just have a ton of respect for him, not only for what he did on the field, but what he did off the field.

“And I think what we will see todayand what the community will see is how many people he touched in their lives in regards to the positive impact he had. I’ve always looked from afar and had respect for what he did at Orange Coas as a coach because of the teams he produced and the players he produced, but the kind of people he produced.

“It was a sad day when it got to me about this tragedy and to see the families that were affected. So many familes were affected. It put it in perspective for myself. Ever since that day, it’s kind of made me put things in perspective being a family person myself with kids that you just never know and you have to cherish day and every person who is real important in your life every day.”

Serrano said Altobelli had special qualities as a coach.

“He was a fiery guy but a guy that his players respected a ton,” Serrano said. “He had the respect of the players. There was a short stint when Coach (George) Horton was the head coach of Team USA and I was supposed to spend the summer with them and because of my duties, I was working. But there was a short stint I was with him on Team USA when he helped Coach Horton, so I was around him for a few weeks, and he was just a fabulous, fiery guy who just loved baseball and loved being on the baseball field.”

Among the high school baseball coaches in attendance were Tustin high coach Charles Chatman, who graduated from Costa Mesa High, which is across the street from OCC. He knew Altobelli since he was a junior in high school. Altobelli recruited Chatman to play at OCC, but he opted to play at Golden West College.

“He was a good mentor to me and many guys in our community,” Chatman said. “He was just one of those special personalities that could light up a room and drew the respect of everyone,” Chatman said.

Former OCC assistant coach Bob Flint was on hand along with former UCI Irvine baseball coach Mike Gerakos, who worked with Altobelli when Altobelli was an assistant coach at UCI. Former University baseball coach Chris Conlin also attended.

PHOTOS AND STORY FROM MONDAY’S CELEBRATION OF LIFE

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