'Baseball was his life, really': Childhood friend says of coach who died in Bryant crash
Growing up on Albert Street in Mount Prospect, John Altobelli and John Moran were best buddies.
It was a simpler time during the late 1960s. The duo would make forts in the nearby cornfield, play catch in the easement between houses and games on the street with other kids from the neighborhood.
Those memories came rushing back, Moran said, when news broke of Altobelli's unexpected death Sunday morning in Southern California.
"We were just super happy kids," Moran said, adding he and "Johnny" played together on a youth football team. "When it's someone you knew from back home, it hits home. He's a family man just like I am."
Altobelli, 56, along with his wife, Keri, and roughly 13-year-old daughter, Alyssa, were among nine people killed in the helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, aka "Gigi." Alyssa and Gigi played on the same basketball team, according to Altobelli's younger brother, Tony.
John Altobelli was the longtime baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, where his family moved after leaving Mount Prospect when he was in fifth grade.
Moran's family also moved to Florida around the same time. Now 57, Moran lives in Tucson, Arizona, and has three sons.
He and Altobelli didn't really keep in touch except for a chance reunion in Chicago years later as adults when they drank beer together and caught up on each other's lives.
"Baseball was his life, really," Moran said. "He knew he wanted to do that and he made a career out of it."
Altobelli coached 27 seasons at Orange Coast and was named a national coach of the year by the American Baseball Coaches Association. He led Orange Coast to more than 700 victories and four state titles, according to the community college.
The way people describe Altobelli as an adult is exactly how Moran remembers Altobelli's father.
"His dad was super involved with kids in the neighborhood," Moran said, adding he would organize games, coach baseball and "taught me how to ride a bike.
"It's not a surprise that (Johnny) ended up in that capacity as a coach for that long period of time."
Altobelli had five siblings in addition to Tony, the sports information director and baseball announcer at Orange Coast College.
"We have lost a member of our OCC family, and our hearts are broken," college President Angelica Suarez said in a statement. "Coach Altobelli was a giant on our campus."
Orange Coast Athletic Director Jason Kehler said in a statement Altobelli personified what it means to be a baseball coach: "The passion that he put into the game, but more importantly his athletes, was second to none -- he treated them like family."
The Altobellis are survived by a son, J.J., a former college baseball player and current Boston Red Sox scout, and a daughter, Alexis.
A GoFundMe page set up by the Red Sox to help with funeral costs, Alexis' college tuition and living costs had raised more than $201,500 of a $500,000 goal by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
"As J.J. and his sister Lexi cope with the immense sadness stemming from this accident, we want to rally to raise money for them. Ensuring that J.J. and Lexi don't have to worry about financial insecurity moving forward is the least we can do," according to the fundraising page.