May 30, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Thousands honor Altobelli family in celebration of Life at Angel Stadium

A photo tribute to the Altobelli family was on display for the celebration of life Monday. (Photos Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone)

The Altobelli family, including former Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, touched many lives in Orange County.

Many of them, saddened when Altobelli, his wife Keri and youngest daughter Alyssa were killed in a helicopter crash that also killed Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his youngest daughter Gianna and four others, showed just how much they meant on Monday evening.

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

An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 fans turned out for a celebration of life on a sunny, warm day. Baseball players and coaches showed up in big numbers in honor of Altobelli, who was about to enter his 28th year as OCC coach. He had led OCC to four state titles.

“On this day, in my opinion, we are not at Angel Stadium, we are at Altobelli Stadium,” said family friend Guy Lemmon as he greeted fans at the start of the program.

Angel Stadium’s turf was torn up because of a monster truck show on Sunday, but the location still seemed perfect for the celebration because it was one of Altobelli’s favorite places. He coached his son JJ during an elite baseball tournmament there.

Orange Coast College baseballl players were in attendance, along with all the other teams in the Orange Empire Conference. Coach Kent Madole’s Irvine Valley College baseball team attended.

Altobelli also had a close ties with the local fire departments in Costa Mesa and Anaheim, who showed their respect by raising huge American flags in front of the stadium.

Fans walked into the stadium and looked at hundreds of pictures of the Altobelli family which were displayed on walls. There was no admission and free parking and Angels personnel greeted fans as they came in.

Tributes from friends closest to the Altobelli family were shared. Those who spoke talked about how Coach Altobelli was a caring and passionate coach and father, how his wife Keri was honest, caring and devoted to her family and how the couple’s daughter, Alyssa, was dedicated to her sport of basketball playing for Kobe’s Bryant’s youth team, the Mambas. The friendship between the Altobelli’s and Kobe Bryant started whe Bryant began coaching Alyssa.

Family members sat in the dugout on the third base side, out of view from most of those in attendance, who were seated behind them in the stands.

Coach Altobelli’s son, J.J. Altobelli spoke briefly and thanked those in attendance for their support.

“People have been selected to speak about them today to paint a perfect picture of who they are,” he said. “The legacy they left will live through all of us.”

Family friend and pastor Eric Rees shared a moving story about how he met Coach Altobelli.

“It was in Februrary of 2012, that was the date that I got to meet Coach Alto for the very first time,” Rees said. “He had graciously decided to dedicate opening day from that season to my 12-year-old daughter…..who had just lost her fight to cancer. At that moment, I was a broken dad, just trying to grieve.

“When I arrived at the field, coach greeted me and my son, and he gave me this massive hug. After our tearful embrace near third base, he shared how sorry he was. And then he shared that he would do anything to make sure our family was supported. For the next eight years, coach fulfilled his promise and always made his team and his family available to help with our foundation in any way possible.”

Other speakers, including long-time friends of Altobelli, Jeff Piaskowski Sr. and Jeff Piaskowski Jr. talked about how Altobelli taught life lessons to his players. They recalled his passion for the game, how he hated to lose and his occasional run-ins with umpires during games which resulted in ejections. He was arguing because he believed in his players, they said, and he was standing up for them.

Keri Altobelli was also remembered as a person who loved her family and was always honest with her friends.

“As I reflect back on the life that Keri lived, I can confidently say that she had great conviction and she made no apologies,” said her best friend Lori Lever. “She never settled and she definitely left this earth without regret.

“I still want to believe this is a bad dream, but I know it’s true. In an instant, on the morning of Jan. 26, the world lost nine important people.”

Lerner then read the names of all nine victims and added more about her best friend.

“Keri was a true mentor to a lot of people,” she said. “I don’t think Keri knew I thought of her as a mentor, I wish I had told her so. I admired how she embraced a strong set of values to which she held everyone and herself accountable.”

Alyssa Altobelli’s best friend, Sammy Forbath, described Alyssa Altobelli as the “most funny and most caring girl I’ve ever known. She always had my back no matter. She was always doing her best to make people happy and make them feel good about themselves.

“As we all know, Alyssa was a devoted basketball player. She would practice and practice. Alyssa had the hardest work ethic of anyone I’ve ever known. She always worked 110 percent, even when no one was watching. She was lots of fun to be around…..we would could talk and laugh for hours and hours. I spent a lot of time with her and her parents. Mr. and Mrs. Altobelli always welcomed me into their home. They were super loving and kind to us.”

Orange Coast College assistant baseball coach Kent Watanabe, a close friend of the family, shared a letter he wrote to Alyssa saying she would “be forever be in our hearts,” and recalling his special memories of her.

Watanabe’s son, Lee, talked about Coach Altobelli’s impact and how he loved to hug people.

“He is someone we could always look up to and somebody who I know will always be watching over us,” Lee Watanabe said. “He was our captain, our rock. We’re all part of the Pirates ship, we’re all forever pirates.”

Former college roommate David Pierce, who played with Altobelli, talked about Altobelli’s impact.

“We believe that there is a better place and we will one day re-unite with them all,” he said. “Orange Coast College mourns the loss of all the victims. Pirates Park was definitely the house that Alto built.

“But John has been building his entire life. Alto has been building and connecting to people his entire life. Today is a perfect example. He has been a builder of families as well as his family, friendships, colleagues and wonderful teammates. He represents greatness in all of us.

“He has pushed us all to a limit…he has taught us to push more and to do the right things. Alto created a winning culture with his former teammates at the University of Houston. I know this especially because I was one of them. He was by wing man, my brother, my go to guy who was the heart and soul of our team. He was our captain.”

Altobelli’s long-time friend Clarke Smith said that Altobelli displayed admirable traits, including loyalty, trust, work ethic and respect which made him and others around him successful.

Keri Altobelli’s brother Derek Sanders also honored his sister and other tributes for Coach Altobelli were shared by Buck Taylor, a friend who also coached against Altobelli along with Allison and Emily Eadie, who were friends of Alyssa Altobelli.

Those in attendance in were then asked to turn their cell phone camera lights on and shine them toward the family to show their support.

The media, which was restricted to an area above where those in attendance sat, was asked out of respect to the families, to avoid interviews with family members. The family did not talk to the media.

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