Saddleback Baseball Coach shares thoughts on what Orange Coast College Baseball Coach John Altobelli meant to him

Coach McCartney speaks with Umpires prior to the Gauchos first game since John Altobelli passed away. (Connor Hedges/Lariat)

Longtime head baseball coach at Orange Coast College John Altobelli died in a crash that involved NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s private helicopter on Sunday, Jan. 26 along with his wife Keri Altobelli, youngest daughter Alyssa and six others. Altobelli is survived by his two children, son J.J. and daughter Alexis.

Saddleback baseball coach Sommer McCartney first met Altobelli back in 1998 when he first became an assistant coach for the baseball team at Saddleback. Altobelli became the head coach at Orange Coast in 1992 and worked there for twenty seven years.

During his time at OCC, he led the baseball team to four California State titles and was named the National Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association just this past summer. McCartney stated that in the twenty one years coaching against Altobelli, he watched OCC become one of the most successful programs in California. 

“The thing that really hit home to me is that we both have two daughters and they’re the same age,” McCartney said. “When you see an unexpected loss like that, it makes you put life into perspective. I talked to my players about perspective and I know that we have all these goals and aspirations, but we often get caught up in a winning season, and at the end of the day, you have to be grateful that you’re doing what you’re doing.”

McCartney went on to state that Altobelli was an all around great baseball guy, and that whenever Saddleback played OCC, he always wanted to beat them because of how good of a program they were. They had some great rivalries at times, but Altobelli was always the type of guy who would send a text message saying “good luck” when both teams were in the playoffs.

“You have to enjoy the little things and not get caught up in all of life’s stresses because you often forget about the most important part,” McCartney said. “He is still teaching us even though he is gone.”

Both of the coaches hoped that they would be able to play each other in the State Championship. McCartney had the utmost respect for Altobelli, dating back to when they first met two decades ago. 

“Altobelli was also a very fiery guy, in a good way, to motivate his team and keep them going, one year when they won the State Championship, he got ejected, and the rule is if you get ejected twice, you’re done for the season,” McCartney said. “Somehow they squashed the second ejection and let him back on the field, he then he got ejected a third time and they went on to win the State Championship, he had a tremendous amount of passion for the game.”

When asked if Saddleback plans to honor Altobelli, his wife and daughter, McCartney stated that Saddleback, along with the whole Orange Empire Conference, already has a patch made for their hats that say “Alto” on them with his wife and daughters names. 

Saddleback plays OCC for the first time this season on March 31.