Kobe Bryant helicopter crash victim John Altobelli left his mark on Michigan baseball

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

After reaching second or third base on an extra-base hit, a Michigan baseball player will look toward the dugout while making a gesture as though he's pulling a rope.

When Cody Bruder joined the Wolverines before the 2015 season after spending the previous two playing for John Altobelli at Orange Coast College in southern California, he told his new teammates how at OCC the players pulled the rope together.

Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli, wife Keri and daughter Alyssa were among those killed in the helicopter crash with NBA icon Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna in Calabasas, Calif., on Sunday. Alyssa played on the same team as Gianna, said Altobelli's brother Tony, who is the sports information director at the school.

“After Cody told the story, it instantly was a hit with our team and we’ve been doing it ever since the last five years,” Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich said Monday. “Every time a player hits an extra-base hit, they get to second or third base and they pull the rope, and the whole dugout pretends to pull with them.

“It’s just a cool, connected thing that John Altobelli influenced our program indirectly that way.”

Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, were among the nine who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday that also took the lives of NBA great Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. Altobelli, 56, was well-respected in the baseball coaching profession and was entering his 28th season at OCC.

He was described by OCC associate coach Nate Johnson as “the Kobe of the junior college baseball world.”

“I thought that was a good way to put it,” said Bakich, who considered Altobelli a friend. “He was a legend out there. You put him in the same conversation with any of the all-time greats. Personally, I always thought this is a guy that could coach any level of baseball. He just had that type of skill set.

“But what made him special, he just had this connected personality. Just one of those guys you wanted to be around, you loved to hang out with, you just gravitated to, and so did his players and his coaches and guys in the coaching community. We lost just an unbelievable person, really.”

Bakich said he asked Bruder about the type of person Altobelli was and what it was like to play for him. They shared the same admiration for the coach.

“He was one of those coaches that it wasn’t just about winning,” Bakich said. “He put a lot of emphasis on developing the total person and making sure these guys were great people, great future husbands, great future fathers. That was one thing in all the years of recruiting, if you were ever going to recruit one of John Altobelli’s players at OCC, you knew you were getting a great person.”

During recruiting visits to southern California, Bakich said he always made a point to visit Altobelli.

“He’s someone that even if we weren’t connected in the baseball world I would have wanted to have been friends with,” he said.

Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli.

Altobelli’s baseball reach was deep. He managed in the Cape Cod league and coached on Team USA, as well as junior college.

“Everybody is feeling deeply affected,” Bakich said. “Everyone was connected to Alto in one way or another. He could have done anything. He could have coached any level of baseball, but college baseball had some type of connection with him through the years.

“I know the college baseball community is mourning the loss of a great man.”


Twitter: @chengelis