Coach John Altobelli, or Alto as players called him in the dugout, was highly respected in the baseball world around the United States — and I am one of those admirers.
Alto led the Orange Coast College Pirates to three Orange Empire Conference championship titles, four state championships and a Perfect Game national championship in 2014. He also coached in the Cape Cod summer baseball league where he shared the field with some of the biggest names in college baseball.
When I first transferred to OCC to play baseball in 2014, the Pirates had just won the California state championship and the Perfect Game national championship.
Everybody involved in the baseball program believed in Alto’s guidance and newcomers listened and valued the advice he shared.
One phrase he used that always stuck with me was “tiger up.” It was our way of building confidence at the plate with two strikes behind us.
That was part of Alto’s on-field vision. On and off the field, perseverance was a message he brought to every conversation.
No matter how bad things may seem or how deep you are in a count, you better take advantage of every opportunity you get to conquer and change the energy of the moment.
Coach Alto always had a way of paying his respect to the game and its players. He had a banner made for the outfield fence with the number #22 for J Watt, a player who died during his time at OCC. Alto coined, “Forever a Pirate” as a phrase the team could connect to and understand that the love for the game is larger than life.
As a team we often talked about NEGU, a foundation for kids fighting cancer — an acronym for ‘never ever give up.’
We knew Coach Alto was friends with Kobe and that made him even more prestigious. Alto once brought Kobe down into the dugout to give the team a pep talk.
The last time I saw Alto was at OCC’s commencement in 2017. I hadn’t played for him in a year or two but he showed me love and was happy to see me getting my degree. Although I never played a full spring season for him, I will always cherish the lessons I learned and the friendships I made.