After losing his brother, John Altobelli, in the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, Tony Altobelli helped the Orange Coast College Pirates start their season.
To honor his brother and help the team open the season Tuesday, Tony posted a letter addressed to John on the school’s website and gave a short speech before the game against Southwestern College, according to ESPN.
In his 27-year career as the coach of the Orange Coast College Pirates, John Altobelli amassed 705 wins and four state championships. He also raised $3 million dollars to make his baseball field the same caliber as a major-league facility. Altobelli had struck up a friendship with Bryant after their daughters became teammates on the same club basketball team, ESPN reported. (RELATED: Kobe Bryant’s Helicopter Was Flying Dangerously Low Before Fatal Crash)
Despite his grief, Tony met with the new head coach of the Pirates, Nate Johnson, on Sunday to discuss what the team wanted to do for the opening game of the season in two days. The players and coaches huddled and immediately made a decision to play Tuesday against Southwestern College. One of the players said “It’s what John would have wanted,” according to ESPN.
The 2 in the middle lost their mom, dad, and sister today.
I’m sick for them. Literally nauseous. May they be surrounded 24/7 by the supernatural peace only absolve at a time like this. RIP John Altobelli, Alyssa, and Keri pic.twitter.com/CST4xPDoEA
— Carlos Whittaker (@loswhit) January 27, 2020
Normally on game days Tony is the PA announcer, the DJ, the scoreboard operator, the official scorer and the statistician. However, to help the team heal he also delivered a heartfelt speech and wrote a letter to his brother on the school website.
Tony started his speech by saying “First of all, wow. Look at all these people out here today. That says a lot about my brother.” The crowd was capped out at 2,000, forty times the average attendance. Even Yankees pitcher Gerritt Cole went to the game to honor his former coach.
Gerrit Cole even made it out to OCC for the game today pic.twitter.com/DcQ4vgQYXg
— Randi (@randi_radcliffe) January 28, 2020
Tony also posted a letter to John on the school’s website, thanking him for everything he had done for him, his family and the Pirates. Tony wrote “As long as I’m around here, you can make sure I’ll do my best to keep your spirit alive for everyone to understand and follow around here. You left a lasting impact on thousands of kids and you left a mark in the collegiate baseball world that will never be forgotten. You made a difference, John — what more can anyone ask for?Thank you for keeping the bar high, John. Give Mom a hug for me.”
The baseball field today at Orange Coast College where John Altobelli would have started his 28th season as head coach Tuesday. Altobelli was on the helicopter with Kobe Bryant this morning #Kobe pic.twitter.com/v7CSSBj3Za
— Steve Fryer (@SteveFryer) January 26, 2020
“I needed to do this for him,” said Tony, “I think he would’ve done the same thing for me.”
In the wake of John’s death, the school created a foundation that raised $25,000 dollars by Wednesday afternoon. The scouting director of the Red Sox, Paul Toboni, created a GoFundMe account for John’s surviving children that raised $200,000 dollars at the same time, ESPN reported.
The game ended early at Orange Coast College’s Wendell Pickens Field after the sun went down because the field has no lights, according to ESPN. Orange Coast was down one run.