His daughter, Alyssa, was scheduled to play in a youth tournament in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Mr. Altobelli didn’t want to miss it. To avoid an 80-mile drive in traffic, the family hitched a helicopter ride with Mr. Bryant, a coach and fellow parent who had become a friend.
“I don’t know how you’d say what he was more committed to, the game or his family,” said Tim Matz, a friend and pitching coach at Orange Coast College.
Mr. Altobelli, 56, died in the crash, along with his wife, Keri, and daughter Alyssa, the college confirmed in a statement.
Mr. Matz had just finished golfing at Palm Springs when he got a call about the crash. “Oh my God,” he thought. He knew his friend, who was known as “Alto,” had planned to be on board.
“I called Alto right away, and it went straight to voice mail,” said Mr. Matz, 66, who began calling friends and family members until he reached Mr. Altobelli’s adult son, J.J.
“He was just distraught,” Mr. Matz recalled. “He had just heard the news. I just said to him, ‘Please tell me Dad wasn’t on the helicopter.’ He said, ‘He was. So was Mom, and Alyssa.’”
Mr. Altobelli, who had been the head coach at the college for going on 28 seasons, “had a very uncanny ability to make you feel like family,” Mr. Matz said. Keri Altobelli had recently taken over a family business, and Alyssa was making her own way, the basketball player in a family full of baseball fans. She dreamed of attending the University of Oregon, Mr. Matz said.