ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The smiling faces of baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and daughter Alyssa shone in photos and videos cast on screens at Angel Stadium of them hitting the baseball field, basketball court and the beach.
But as friends and family remembered the couple and their teenage daughter killed in last month’s helicopter crash that also claimed the life of basketball star Kobe Bryant, many couldn’t help but break into tears.
Several thousand people poured into the stadium in Anaheim, California, Monday for a public memorial honoring the award-winning coach of Orange Coast College baseball, who was known for leading his team to four state titles and helping his young players grow and develop on and off the field. Scores of them were in the stadium, along with members of current local college teams, wearing their jerseys.
“We have no clue how many teachers, police officers, firefighters, dads and husbands that he helped develop along the way,” his longtime friend Josh Belovsky told the crowd. “Those are the wins that he cherished the most.”
The 56-year-old coach known as “Alto” won more than 700 games during his 27 years coaching the team and was named coach of the year last year by the American Baseball Coaches Association.
Altobelli also managed the Brewster Whitecaps for three seasons in the Cape Cod Summer League. Among the players he coached there were New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge and New York Mets infielder Jeff McNeil.
The Altobellis were among the nine people killed Jan. 26 when a helicopter carrying them to a youth basketball tournament crashed in foggy weather outside Los Angeles.
Bryant and his daughter Gianna, Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton, Christina Mauser — who helped Bryant coach the teenage girls’ basketball team — and helicopter pilot Ara Zobayan were also killed. A public memorial for the former Lakers superstar, his daughter and other victims is scheduled for Feb. 24 at Staples Center.
On Monday, the memorial began with the reading of the nine names of the victims. From a podium covered with flower bouquets, photos and sports jerseys, family and friends shared memories and messages of support for Altobelli’s son J.J., a scout with the Boston Red Sox, and a 16-year-old daughter, Lexi.
Alyssa Altobelli, 14, attended Ensign Intermediate School in Newport Beach, which retired her jersey, and hoped to someday attend the University of Oregon. She loved basketball and would find ways to get to the gym when practices were cancelled, said Emily Eadie, her teammate.
“If anyone was in a bad mood at practice she would smile and laugh to help brighten the day,” she said. “Without her, our team will never be the same.”
A video was shown of Alyssa bounding down the court, her ponytail bouncing. She also loved animals and took turtles home from science class when she feared they were being mistreated, her friend Sammy Forbath said.
Keri Altobelli, 46, was remembered as loyal, strong and wholly dedicated to her husband and family. Allison Eadie described how the two spent so much time on bleachers watching their daughters play basketball they joked about having their names engraved on plaques there. “It was evident she would do absolutely anything for those that she loved,” she said. “When she had your back you didn’t need anyone else.”
Pastor Erik Rees recalled meeting the coach eight years ago. At the time, Rees was grieving the loss of his 12-year-old daughter to cancer and Altobelli, who was dedicating a game to her, met him at third base and gave him a hug, promising to support him and his family.
“That is one of the many things I am going to miss, is an ’Alto’ hug,” Rees said. “Their time on Earth was cut way too short.”
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