Yankees ace Gerrit Cole paid tribute to the victims of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash on Tuesday as he participated in the season opener of the Orange Coast College baseball program.
Long-time college coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri, and their teenage daughter Alyssa, who was a teammate of Bryant's late daughter Gianna, were among the nine killed when the helicopter went northwest of Los Angeles on Sunday to play the girls game in Los Angeles, Bryant's basketball facility went down.
Altobelli started his 24th season as a baseball coach at the school in Costa Mesa, California, about 70 miles southeast of Calabasas, where the accident occurred.
The Orange Coast players voted for the game, which assistant coach Ron La Ruffa told reporters what John would have wanted.
The team honored Altobelli's memory by wearing his number 14 and winning 8-1. Altobelli has led the program to more than 700 victories and four state championships in his career.
"John meant so much to not only Orange Coast College, but baseball too," said Jason Kehler, the school's sports director. “He really embodied what it means to be a baseball coach. The passion he put in the game, but especially his athletes, was second to none – he treated them like family. Our heartfelt condolences go to the Altobelli family at this time of tragedy. "
Cole, who has a light beard that he will soon have to shave according to the Yankees' facial politics, was spotted during the game by Twitter user @randi_radcliffe, who was also at the game.
While it's unclear whether Cole, who grew up an hour's drive from college in Newport Beach, knew Altobelli, 56-year-old Altobelli Mets and Yankees stars Jeff McNeil and Aaron Judge trained during his three-year stay at the Cape Cod League in 2012- 14th
“He took a chance on me (in 2012) and kept me there all summer. He took this chance on me and added me to his team to move me in, ”McNeil told ESPN on the day of the accident.
McNeil was drafted by the Mets in 2013 and was one of the club's best players last season.
Cole, widely recognized as the best pitcher in baseball, signed a nine-year, $ 324 million contract with the Yankees this off-season.
Altobelli is survived by his son J.J., a Red Sox scout, and daughter Lexi.