Legendary Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli passes away

Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli. (Courtesy OCC Athletics)
Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli. (Courtesy OCC Athletics)

Video: Coach Altobelli addresses his team after winning 2019 CCCAA Championship (no sound) - Courtesy SoCal College Sports

(The following news release was written by Orange Coast College Sports Information Director Tony Altobelli, brother of John Altobelli. Tony, despite the devastating tragedy that he was experiencing, wrote the beautiful tribute below, spoke with the media regarding his brother and acted as the true professional his colleagues know him to be. The thoughts of the CCCAA and his brethren in the California Community College Sports Information Association are with Tony, his family, Orange Coast College and all of the victims and their families.)

CALABASAS - Orange Coast College suffered an incredible loss on Sunday when longtime baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri and youngest daughter, Alyssa, were among the victims of a helicopter crash that took the lives of nine people.

"It's hard to put into words what this loss means to the college and the athletics department," OCC Athletics Director Jason Kehler said. "John was a tremendous coach and an even better friend. Beyond that, he was an amazing mentor to all of the students and athletes that he taught and coached. He treated them all like family and his impact will live on forever."

Altobelli, who is survived by his son, J.J. and daughter Lexi, helped lead the Pirates to the 2019 state baseball championship last year and was named the National Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) this offseason.

About to start his 28th season with the Pirates, Altobelli was 705-478-4 (.592) with four state championships, eight trips to the State Final Four and seven Orange Empire Conference championships (including the last three years). His four state baseball championships are tied for the third-most in the history of California Community College baseball.

John Altobelli (Photo by David Sanborn)

(Photo by David Sanborn)

Associate head coach Nate Johnson will take over for the 2020 Pirates as they prepare for this year's season-opener against Southwestern College, beginning at 2 p.m. at Wendell Pickens Field.

Altobelli earned himself in some lofty company in 2019, guiding his Pirate ballclub to the CCCAA State Championship last year, becoming just the fifth coach in the history of California Community College baseball to win four or more state championships. In addition to the titles, Altobelli also picked up career win No. 700 with a 10-7 win over Mt. San Antonio on May 17, becoming just the 16th coach in CCCAA baseball history to reach that milestone.

The 2019 Pirates set a school record for wins in a single season (39) and OCC's won the Orange Empire Conference for the third straight year, last accomplished at Coast when Mike Mayne's Pirates win three straight conference crowns from 1980-82. It was also the eighth State Final Four appearance for Altobelli's Pirates and fourth state championship during his tenure (2009, 2014, 2015, 2019). 

 

 

OCC finished third in the state with a 34-15 record in 2018, earning Altobelli conference Coach of the Year and Southern California Coach of the Year honors.

After a year that didn't see the Pirates reach the postseason, Coast came back with a vengeance, winning the Orange Empire Conference and finishing the 2017 season just one win short of the State Final Four with a 36-12 record.

In one of the biggest upsets in California Community College baseball history, the 2015 Pirates, who started the playoffs as a 10th seed out of Southern California, shocked the baseball world by winning three straight best-of-three series – all on the road – before winning three straight games at the State Final Four to capture their second straight state title. Despite a third-place finish in the OEC, it was perhaps Altobelli's finest season as a head coach as he managed to get the best out of a team few thought would repeat as a state champion.

In 2014, the Pirates (36-9) returned to the top of the baseball mountain by winning the 2014 CCCAA State Baseball Championship with a win over Sequoias (3-1), and a pair of victories over San Joaquin Delta (4-1 and 5-3), capping off a season-ending 15-game win streak. As one of the most talented teams in OCC history, the Pirates earned the nation's No. 1 ranking at the end of the season and the team's strong efforts on and off the field enabled 16 players continue their playing careers at the four-year level in 2015.

In 2013, Altobelli joined the "500-Win Club" with a 3-2, 10-inning win over Palomar on Feb. 22, becoming the 24th coach in the history of California Community College to reach that milestone.

The 2012 team was one of the best in school history as the Pirates finished with a record of 36-7-1. OCC, outright winners of the OEC for the first time since 1987, was ranked No. 1 in the nation for most of the 2012 season before a rough pair of games in the State Final Four stopped Coast's drive for a state title.

The 36 wins was the second-most in school history (equaled in 2014 and repeated in 2017) and OCC's .829 winning percentage was the third-best in school history.

In 2011, Altobelli helped guide the Pirates to a 32-10 record and a trip to the Southern California Super Regional Finals. That Pirates team averaged over eight runs per game and sent several players to four-year programs.

Altobelli and the Pirates made history in more ways than one in 2009. With 37 wins, Altobelli surpassed longtime head coach Mike Mayne on the school's all-time wins list with 402, topping Mayne's 400 career wins. On May 24, 2009, he earned win No. 401 with a win over Diablo Valley in the second round of the State Championships.

However, it was the 402nd win that will stay in the minds of Altobelli, his coaching staff and all associated with the Pirates. With a 10-7 win over San Joaquin Delta on May 25, Coast wrapped up the team's fourth state championship in school history, its first since 1980.

The 37 wins in 2009 were the most in school history and the most ever in Altobelli's 17-year career. He was named Co-Orange Empire Conference Coach the Year, as well as Southern California and State Coach of the Year in 2009. He earned both honors again in 2014 after claiming his second state baseball title in his career.

In 2008, Orange Coast racked up 32 wins, finished second in the always-tough Orange Empire Conference and advanced to the Super Regionals for the second year in a row.

The Pirates advanced to, and hosted, the 2007 Southern California Super Regionals after a solid second-place finish in the OEC.

"Alto" guided the Bucs to a 30-win season for the second time in his tenure in 2002, repeating the feat of his first season in charge. The Pirates advanced to the super regional against conference-foe Riverside that season after capturing the regional tournament at L.A. Harbor.

Eight times chosen the Orange Empire Conference Coach of the Year and four-time State Coach of the Year, Altobelli became the sixth head coach at Orange Coast in June of 1992. His enthusiasm and knowledge of the game have helped him turn the Coast program into a perennial favorite to compete for the conference championship.

A former assistant for Mike Gerakos at UC Irvine, Altobelli used his five years of experience there as a fundraiser to help make much-needed upgrades to the Pirates' home park, Wendell Pickens Field. The changes included a full scoreboard, new sound system, snack stand, bathrooms, improved batting cages and bullpens as well as a better playing surface.

As a player, Altobelli was a standout outfielder at both Newport Harbor and then at Golden West College. As a sophomore in 1983, he was chosen team captain and was named the team's "Rustler of the Year." Altobelli transferred to the University of Houston, where he was a team captain and two-year starter in the Cougar outfield. As a senior, he led the Cougars to the NCAA Regional Finals, bringing them one game from advancing to the College World Series. Following college, Altobelli played one season of professional baseball with the Miami Marlins of the Florida State League.

Altobelli earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physical education from the University of Houston in 1987, then, picked up a master's degree in education from Azusa Pacific University the following year.

MOST STATE TITLES IN CCCAA HISTORY
Wally Kincaid, Cerritos College – 6
Scott Pickler, Cypress College – 5
JOHN ALTOBELLI, ORANGE COAST COLLEGE – 4
Dennis Rogers, Riverside City College – 4
Len Bourdet, Fresno City College – 4

(Courtesy Orange Coast College Athletics)