2020 Alumni Day Game Recap

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Red vs. White at Schroeder Park on Sunday.
(Photo courtesy of @Astronile on Twitter)

The 2020 baseball season got a step closer on Sunday at Schroeder Park as the Houston Cougars saw former ballplayers return home for a yearly event that included batting practice, players introductions, and this year, a solemn salute.

Prior to the game, a moment of silence was observed for John Altobelli, a tribute was read to the crowd while the video board displayed Altobelli’s picture with his years as a Cougar listed, then came the silence and head-bowing . . . The only time Schroeder Park is ever that quiet is when the games are over and the campus is empty . . . Coach Todd Whitting said before the game that he would be attending the memorial for Altobelli tomorrow in Anaheim, California at the Angels ballpark.

The game itself was basically an intrasquad affair, with former Cougars and now professional pitchers Joey Pulido and Nick Hernandez each throwing the first inning for Team White and Team Red respectively, but all fielders and hitters were members of the 2020 squad.

It is hard to tell much during what is an unpredictable game scenario of players switching sides, predetermined innings to pitch, along with only five innings of action to begin with . . . Spencer Hynes, Rey Mendoza, Nick Rupp, Tristen Bayless, Carter Henry and Randy Garza all saw some time on the mound.

Defensively there were some bright spots . . . Newcomer Ryan Hernandez is a big kid and he moves well at third base, he made at least one great play on a weak bouncer which he fielded cleanly and made an accurate off-balance throw . . . Kyle Lovelace threw out a runner trying to steal third . . . Newcomer Steven Rivas fielded a fly ball single on a bounce and the hitter tried to turn the single into a double, but Rivas’s throw to second was right on line and the runner was tagged out with room to spare . . . And Kobe Hyland continues to move smoothly at short.

All told the game ended after five innngs, as was scheduled . . . The rain in the forecast held off long enough for the game to be completed, the kids ran the bases, and autographs were signed in the Cougars dugout to cap off the day.

The Cougars start 2020 action on Friday at 6:30pm at Schroeder Park against Youngstown State, the first of a three-game weekend series to get the season underway.

Cougars Honor John Altobelli

John Altobelli is honored on Monday on the video board at Schroeder Park.
John Altobelli honored Monday on the video board at Schroeder Park.
Photo courtesy of Houston Cougars Baseball

Nearly the last thing a person would have thought about during the unfolding coverage of the crash of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter on Sunday was that there would be a University of Houston connection . . . And even if a connection was possible, it would have been easy to assume it was a basketball connection . . . Well, given enough time for the details to be discovered, sure enough, Cougars baseball was sadly part of an overall unbelievably tragic story.

Former Coogs baseball player and coach for a year, John Altobelli, along with his wife, and their daughter who played basketball with GiGi Bryant, were among the nine who died in the accident Sunday morning.

John Altobelli played for the Cougars in 1984 and 1985 and coached as an assistant in 1987, with a minor league stint in between . . . Altobelli took over the Orange Coast College baseball program in 1992, only leaving his previous coaching job at the time when the University of California Irvine shuttered its baseball program that year, the start of a ten-year hiatus from baseball for the school.

The next twenty-seven years were not easy for the baseball coach, but Altobelli compiled over 700 victories as a coach and he led numerous young men to be better men, better students, and better baseball players . . . All of this even as the game, and life in general, took its toll on him personally.

Asked in May of 2013 by the Orange County Register how much longer he would coach, Altobelli said, “I had open heart surgery a year ago last December. My knees aren’t holding up and I’m not throwing nearly as good in batting practice, but I’m still enthusiastic.”

Four years later, speaking with Spencer Golanka of Coast Report Online, Altobelli sounded the same note, “It [my body] has taken its toll, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. These guys know I’ll do anything for them.” He explained why the pains were worth it and why he would keep coaching, “I can still make an impact in young people’s lives, not so much x’s and o’s of baseball, but life things. I want to make sure they make good decisions off the field by being a good teammate and taking care of business”

Asked by the Orange County Register if hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports, Altobelli answered, “People that don’t really understand the nuances of the game will say that it’s not. But this is a sport that you have to grow up playing and you can’t take time off. I do think it’s the most difficult thing to do in sports, to hit a 93-mile-per-hour ball with a lot of movement on it.”

When a person is in the same place for 27 seasons, especially as something such as a baseball coach, they are doing something special, in John Altobelli’s case, what he was doing was bigger than just baseball.

Baseball tragically lost a great ambassador on Sunday . . . John Altobelli was a baseball man, he loved the game, he “felt it” in his blood, but his lasting impact was bigger than baseball . . . Cougars Nation can be proud we crossed paths with this servant leader for a short time; a short time with a lasting impact.