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Twins reliever Sergio Romo played 1 season under college coach killed in helicopter crash

John Altobelli was among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in California.

Among the victims of the helicopter crash that killed Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others on Sunday was a long time college baseball coach. 

John Altobelli, 56, died in the crash along with his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa. Altobelli's connection to Minnesota is through Twins reliever Sergio Romo, whom he coached for one season in the early 2000s. 

In fact, it was Romo's first year playing organized college baseball after growing up through the high school ranks in Brawley, a small town located about 20 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border in Southern California. 

John Altobelli

John Altobelli

Romo played the 2001 season at Orange Coast College, then played the next two seasons at another junior college (Arizona Western) before making the leap to Division II at North Alabama and Mesa State in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Those years led him to him being drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2005. 

Sixteen years later Romo finds himself in Minnesota while Altobelli was about to begin his 28th season Orange Coast College before Sunday's tragic crash. He was entering the 2020 season after being named the 2019 National Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, having led Orange Coast College to a state championship. 

"It's hard to put into words what this loss means to the college and the athletics department," OCC Athletics Director Jason Kehler said in a release. "John was a tremendous coach and an even better friend. Beyond that, he was an amazing mentor to all of the students and athletes that he taught and coached. He treated them all like family and his impact will live on forever."

Related: Past, present MN athletes react to Kobe Bryant's death

According to ESPN, the Altobelli's daughter was teammates with Bryant's daughter and they were headed to a basketball game when the crash happened in the hills of Calabasas, approximately 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles. 

Note: Marty Cordova, who won the 1995 American League Rookie of the Year award, was drafted by the Twins out of Orange Coast College in 1989, just a few years before Altobelli got there. 

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