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Brother of baseball coach who died in helicopter crash pens emotional 'thank you' letter

John Altobelli, a college baseball coach who died in the helicopter crash that also killed Kobe Bryant, was remembered in a heartfelt letter from his younger brother.
/ Source: TODAY

The younger brother of John Altobelli said goodbye to the accomplished college baseball coach with a funny and touching open letter filled with thoughts he'd "been meaning to tell you over the years."

Tony Altobelli's 1,900-word remembrance of his brother, who died at 56 along with his wife, Keri, 46, and daughter Alyssa, 13, in a helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant and five others on Sunday, was posted ahead of an emotional ceremony at John Altobelli's college team's season opener on Tuesday.

Tony Altobelli (right) remembered his brother John (left) in a touching and funny letter after the junior college baseball coach died in a helicopter crash.

Titled "Dear John ... Thank You ... Love, Toad," in reference to Tony's nickname, the letter thanks John for being a supportive big brother while remembering the great times they shared and the hardships they weathered together.

"The funny, outgoing, caring, giving parts of you far shadowed all of the volume you displayed on the baseball field (contrary to what the umpires may think)," Altobelli wrote.

John Altobelli was the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College for 27 years, where he racked up 705 career wins and four state championships. He also coached All-Stars like the Yankees' Aaron Judge and the Mets' Jeff McNeil in the Cape Cod League during summers in Massachusetts.

In his letter, Tony Altobelli, 49, thanked his brother for bringing him to OCC, where he has been the sports information director for 14 years. The school is a community college in Orange County, California.

A jersey hangs at the entrance of Orange Coast College baseball stadium for John Altobelli. Kelvin Kuo / AP

"The fact that you allowed me to be a part of your program beyond that of just 'the stat guy' or 'the PA guy' or 'the music guy' was not only appreciated, it made me want to be the best possible SID on the planet for you,'' Altobelli wrote.

Tony also lamented the loss of his sister-in-law and niece, the latter of whom was a basketball teammate of Bryant's daughter Gianna, 13, who also died in the crash.

"Take care of Keri and Alyssa and we will keep a good eye on everything and everyone down here for you,'' he wrote. "As I told the reporters about you on Sunday, 'You lived your life the way every human being should live their life. Your spirit and legacy will never be forgotten.' And, as long as I'm around here, you can make sure I'll do my best to keep your spirit alive for everyone to understand and follow around here."

Tony Altobelli, who works as Orange Coast College's sports information director, hugs OCC baseball coach Nate Johnson as they paid tribute to John Altobelli at the baseball team's season opener. Kelvin Kuo / AP

According to ESPN, Tony Altobelli found out about his brother's death from an assistant baseball coach while he was on a walk Sunday morning.

Just two days later, he addressed a crowd of about 2,000 as they remembered John, Keri and Alyssa before the Pirates' season opener.

Also in the crowd were John's father Jim, 85, and John's surviving children — Alexis, a junior in high school, and J.J., who works as a scout for the Boston Red Sox.

Tony Altobelli said he received more than 3,000 texts, phone calls and social media messages following his brother's death.

"You left a lasting impact on thousands of kids and you left a mark in the collegiate baseball world that will never be forgotten,'' he wrote. "You made a difference, John — what more can anyone ask for?"