New York Mets All-Star infielder Jeff McNeil credited his former college coach, John Altobelli, who was killed in the same helicopter crash that claimed the life of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, as one of the primary reasons he's playing professional baseball.
Altobelli, the head coach at Orange Coast College, was on the chopper that went down Sunday morning in Calabasas, California, assistant coach Ron La Ruffa confirmed to Steve Fryer of the Orange County Register.
McNeil played for Altobelli in 2012 when both were with the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League.
"He took a chance on me, kept me the whole summer," McNeil said, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN. "Him taking that chance on me, having me on his team, got me drafted."
Altobelli's wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, also died in the crash, the Whitecaps confirmed. His son, J.J. Altobelli, is a scout with the Boston Red Sox.
New York Yankees star Aaron Judge was also a member of the 2012 team.
Seattle Mariners outfielder Braden Bishop shared his own fond memories of Altobelli from their time together with the Whitecaps.
"I'm honestly at a loss for words," Bishop wrote in a text message to William Boor of MLB Pipeline. "Definitely a tough pill to swallow with the whole situation. It was an honor to play for Alto and everything he stood for. I can remember him pulling me aside and giving me pieces of advice during the summer in the cape.
"He was mellow, had a lot of wisdom, and knew how to push his teams in the right direction. It's tragic, and I'm honestly shocked, I think everyone is. He will be missed."