College of the Canyons baseball coach Chris Cota argues that the California Community College Baseball Coaches Association is one of the tightest-knit group of baseball coaches not just in the state, but in the nation.
Cota found a special connection with John Altobelli, the head coach of Orange Coast College, in particular.
“He was a really a family man,” Cota said. “Just a great coach and liked to talk about family and things that he did with his family.”
Altobelli died with his wife and daughter in a helicopter crash that also killed former Lakers player Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, on Sunday in Calabasas.
Shortly after the crash, an email chain began to circulate amongst all the community college baseball coaches in the state, with each sharing memories they had collected with Altobelli, or ‘Alto,’ as he was called by members of the baseball community.
“It’s hit everybody pretty hard and hopefully, I think everybody realizes that sometimes there’s more important things than baseball and we’re just kind of sharing messages with each other over email right now,” Cota said.
COC played Orange Coast College in home and away games every season. The Pirates won the 2019 California Community College Baseball Championship last season and Altobelli was named the ABCA/Diamond National Coach of the Year afterward.
“He was a competitor,” Cota said. “Always had good teams, but he was always a battler on the field and had real good teams and their teams played the right way.”
Cota traces his friendship with Altobelli back 20 years and said that they would regularly talk on the phone about baseball and family.
The Cougars coach also shares a connection with Bryant. At the start of his NBA career and shortly after moving to L.A., a 17-year-old Bryant worked out at the Cougar Cage, Canyons’ gym. At the time, Cota was an equipment manager at the school.
“He would bring his personal trainer to the college two, three days a week and would come to me to let him in the weight room,” Cota said. “He had an aura about him. He seemed much older than his years. Very polite, professional young man.”
Cota added that Bryant also worked out with the COC basketball team during the 1998-99 NBA lockout. Bryant also came and spoke to the Orange Coast baseball team on multiple occasions.
“Alto would tell me great stories about traveling with Kobe,” Cota said. “(Alto was) always fun to be around, always a happy-go-lucky guy.”
COC plays Orange Coast this season on Feb. 22 at home and on Feb. 29 on the road at Orange Coast.