A hard-nosed, gritty baseball player who was always driven and extremely eager to get after it, John Altobelli now focuses his time teaching the intricacies of the game at Orange Coast College.
Baseball was always a family sort of thing for Altobelli, as his brother played as well from a young age and their dad coached them up into high school.
“I played all sports growing up, but seemed to excel in baseball as I got older and that’s kind of where I stayed into,” Altobelli said.
Altobelli played locally at Golden West College for two years and then moved onto University of Houston for two years. After that, he spent a year with the Miami Marlins independent class A-team before being released.
After being released, Altobelli started working with his dad in outside sales for a month, but knew that wasn’t what he wanted to do.
“I wanted to get back into baseball and get into coaching,” Altobelli said. “So I went back to Houston and finished my degree and so I coached there for a year.”
Altobelli moved to UC Irvine for the next five years before the program there was dropped.
“I was fortunate that this job opened up when that job closed and I applied and I was fortunate enough to get hired and this is my 23rd year here,” Altobelli said.
One of Altobelli’s players Dominic Purpura said that Altobelli has helped teach him a lot in his time here.
“He’s taught me way more than he’ll ever know, even things that have absolutely nothing to do with baseball,” Purpura said. “He’s taught me a lot from time management, to focusing on priorities, but most importantly working hard when no one is looking. That is what is going to allow a junior college player to be successful and move on to the next level.”
Assistant coach Nate Johnson said Altobelli is truly a player’s coach.
“He likes to get to know his players very well and treats each and every individual while still keeping them together as a team,” Johnson said. “He will do anything to get people to believe in themselves and the team and he keeps things interesting every day on the ball field.”
Altobelli said he has three rules that he preaches to the team: show up on time, go to class and play and practice hard.
“If you do that, you can play for me,” Altobelli said. “They learn real quick that if I say the bus is leaving at 9:30, they better be there at 9:15 at the latest or they are going to be left behind.”
Johnson said that despite his rules, Altobelli has a laid back and relaxed temperament when it comes to managing the ball club.
“He expects his guys to work hard, but he isn’t all over them,” Johnson said. “If someone isn’t hustling or something of course he’ll get on them. He gives guys room to work on their own and get better, but at the same time makes sure they are doing everything correct.”
Altobelli was an infielder in high school and an outfielder in college and pro ball.
“I thought I was a good hitter and base runner and was fast,” Altobelli said. “So I kind of do all the offensive and defensive stuff but leave the pitching to the other guys. Now as I am getting older, I am getting better at delegating and hiring new coaches to do the stuff I don’t have to do.”
Altobelli’s favorite part of coaching the game is being with the kids. He enjoys being out there with the kids and seeing their growth.
“I like being out there with them and grinding it out and seeing them come in as freshman and leave as sophomores and young men hopefully establishing their goals of moving on,” Altobelli said. “Every day is a different challenge coming out and playing baseball and it’s not a desk job and that’s what makes it exciting. It’s been very rewarding seeing guys move on and some even play pro ball.”
Purpura thinks one of Altobelli’s best qualities is his ability to bring everyone together like sons.
“We can call him anytime of the day or night, and in any circumstances he will be there for us if we need him,” Purpura said. “Coming from Chicago, and being so far from home without my family to lean on, I know he is always there for me and that has allowed me to progress as the person, player and business man I am today.”
Johnson also said that Altobelli is an absolute joy to work with.
“He’s always making the game fun and cracking jokes,” Johnson said. “He really makes you feel like part of the family from the very beginning.”
Altobelli’s goals include coming to work every day and working as hard as he can while pushing the kids and trying to make them better players every day.
“The wins and the losses and the championships kind of take care of themselves,” Altobelli said. “It’s about establishing relationships with young men that have goals and hopefully when they leave this program, they leave as a better person as a whole.”