A line stretched toward J.J. Altobelli on Tuesday afternoon at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa., Calif., hundreds of people without the words to make sense of Sunday’s tragic news but with a deep desire to show their support for the grieving Red Sox scout and his family.
On opening day of OCC’s baseball season, a crowd had gathered to mourn and honor John Altobelli — the longtime coach at OCC and J.J.’s father; Keri Altobelli, J.J.’s stepmother; and Alyssa Altobelli, J.J.’s 13-year-old sister. John, Keri, and Alyssa were three of the nine people who lost their lives on Sunday morning in Calabasas, Calif., in the helicopter crash that also killed former Lakers star Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
Among those in line Tuesday was Justin Horowitz, a fellow member of the Red Sox scouting department who had forged a bond with J.J. Altobelli while working with him over the past two years. Horowitz had texted his friend in the two days after the devastating accident, but he needed to convey a different message face-to-face.
“I just gave him a really big hug, held him, and said, ‘That’s from all of us.’ He knew exactly what I was talking about,” Horowitz said. “We’re there with him.”
The sentiment is not surprising. The relationship among members of a team’s scouting department is one of remarkable closeness in a peripatetic business.
Scouts are scattered across the country, typically meeting as a group for just a few days a year. But in a profession that requires long days filled with solitary drives and frequent separation from families, Red Sox scouts lean on each other.
During those solo road trips, scouts constantly check in with one another. Their conversations sometimes focus on players and work, but far more often offer a chance to catch up about personal and family life — and to celebrate both the joys of their colleagues as well as the challenges and losses they’ve endured.
Red Sox amateur scouting director Paul Toboni estimates that he spends “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of hours a year on the phone with members of his department. The bonds forged through those conversations help explain why several Red Sox scouts have been with the team for more than a decade.
“[Altobelli] talked about his dad non-stop,” said Toboni, who noted that J.J. likewise would beam when talking about his sister Alyssa’s basketball career.
In December, Toboni and Red Sox VP of scouting Mike Rikard got a first-hand glimpse of the relationship between John and J.J. Altobelli when the team held a workout at OCC. The closeness of father and son was obvious.
“You’d see their eyes light up talking together. J.J. took so much pride in his dad’s program. And his dad was so interested in the scouting side of it, how J.J. was doing,” Rikard said. “It was so easy to see how much they loved and respected each other. In retrospect, looking back, they had a relationship almost like best friends, the obvious common bond being baseball.”
Thoughts of that day, or conversations with J.J. Altobelli about his family, flooded the minds of his fellow Red Sox scouts as they tried to process Sunday’s news. To those who know J.J. Altobelli, the tragedy was not abstract but immediately and overwhelmingly personal, and a recognition that their friend faced an incomprehensible loss.
“It was just gut-wrenching for everyone,” Toboni said. “It takes a little bit of time to get through that. I don’t think anyone is through it yet. But you get to a point where the thought process shifts to, ‘What can we do for J.J.?’ ”
The Red Sox have pledged emotional and financial support for Altobelli and his family, and time away from his job to deal with the loss. Toboni also started a GoFundMe page to help the Altobelli family, with a goal of $500,000. As of Wednesday evening, more than $200,000 had been raised.
“The Red Sox are going to be providing financial and emotional support, but as we reach out to the public with the platform the Red Sox carry — Major League Baseball as well — some of this becomes how can we reach the most amount of people that we can?” said Toboni.
There is no solace in the wake of such a tragedy, but there can be a commitment by a tight-knit group to help in any way possible.
“To know what to say or communicate to him, there’s not really words,” Rikard said. “[But] when something tragic like this happens, we rally around each other. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we’re there for each other.
“In this case, you’re not sure what to do. For now, we’re giving him his space while letting him know how much we love and care about him. And when he’s ready, there will be an army of people to support him.”
The Altobelli GoFundMe page can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-for-the-altobelli-family. Alex Speier can be reached email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @alexspeier.