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Baseball Also Suffered A Serious Loss in the Kobe Bryant Tragedy (slightly revised)

On Sunday January 26th, the death of retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles shocked not just the sporting world but the world at large.  

 
It was a foggy day in Los Angeles and even the LAPD had refused to fly in such weather.  We all know, sadly, that nothing stops even retired elite athletes when there is a game. In this case, it was Kobe's 13-year-old daughter Gianna's game sponsored by his Mamba Academy that he was hurrying to. 

 
Also perishing in the crash were John Altobelli, 56, the outstanding baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, his wife Keri, and their 14-year-old daughter Alyssa who also would have been playing in the game. 

 
To baseball people in the know, the passing of John Altobelli, no relation to former MLB first baseman and manager Joe Altobelli, is a severe blow. 

 

In addition to winning four California junior college titles and being the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) 2019 Coach of the Year, Altobelli had led the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod Baseball League for three seasons from 2012 to 2014.

 

He had mentored two of New York's biggest stars, the Yankees' Aaron Judge and the Mets' Jeff McNeil.

 
As I post on Monday February 10, my thoughts are with the friends and family at the Altobelli memorial that is being held at the Big A, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's stadium. 

 

The surviving members of the immediate family are J. J. Altobelli, 29, a former University of Oregon shortstop and a 18th-round draft choice of the Cardinals, and his sister Alexis, 16.  

 

Since 2018 J.J. (John James) has been a Red Sox scout. His uncle Tony, John's young brother, is sports information director at Orange Coast College. The OCC Foundation is accepting donations in the Altobellis' memory.

 

There has also been established a GoFundMe account at

https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-for-the-altobelli-family 

 
That in his earlier life Kobe Bryant was not exactly a family man prompted CBS's Morning's on-air TV host Gayle King to raise the issue in an interview with retired WNBA star Lisa Leslie. 

 

There is no doubt that Kobe had become a huge supporter of girls' and women's basketball. Perhaps it was premature with grieving still so raw in the LA area for King to bring up the subject.

 

But in a gruesome sign of the times, King has reported death threats and has hired security for her home. So has said King's BFF (Best Friend Forever) Oprah Winfrey. 

 

Such is life in 2020 where far from a world of 20/20 vision, we are living In a 24/7/365 cyberspatial world where people seemingly see things only in black or white, heroes or villains.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS:

The Super Bowl a week after the helicopter tragedy turned out to be a helluva game.  As you know, I am a big fan of Pat Mahomes and I'm glad he led the big comeback in the fourth quarter.  

 

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan will have to own or "wear" - as Buck Showalter put it when he didn't use Zach Britton in the 2016 AL Wild Card game against Toronto - his role in two blown Super Bowl leads.  As the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, his questionable play-calling allowed the Patriots to win the Super Bowl XL in 2017 after trailing 28-3 in the second half. 

 

I like to think that the 49'ers got their comeuppance for celebrating too early by striking a team photo pose in the end zone after they got a 10-point lead in midway through the fourth quarter.  There was more football to be played as the Chiefs soon schooled them.

 

I grew up in the 1950s with the "Father Knows Best" TV series.  I've never forgotten how father Jim Anderson (Robert Young) ordered son Bud (Billy Gray) to report himself to the coach for reading about himself in the newspaper rather than getting his bed rest.  He was docked a game for his impertinence. 

 

I'd like to think that premature gloating and preening will backfire in the political arena as well.  We are barely in middle innings of political cycle if you catch my drift. 

 

Next time, hope there is hopeful news from spring training for at least some of you fans and your teams. Commissioner Rob Manfred's newly-disclosed idea for expanding playoffs to 14 teams is not what I had in mind. More on that next time.

  

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!

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"Stronger Than Hate": Julian Edelman's Message + Notes on Opera and Film As We Await Spring Training

A cousin of mine just sent me an inspiring story about Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, a rare openly Jewish member of the NFL (though technically only his father is Jewish not his mother). After the slaughter of defenseless Jews at a Pittsburgh Squirrel Hill neighborhood synagogue this past fall, the Patriots wide receiver Edelman showed his solidarity with his co-religionists by inking on his football shoes, "Stronger Than Hate". 

 

It's a wonderful reminder that human compassion can win out over the forces of hate and bigotry that have been let loose in this country and implicitly encouraged from the top down.  I ran across tonight another inspirational quote from an emeritus archivist at Illinois Wesleyan University:  "The past is immutable, but history is up to us." 

 

I didn't know until researching a talk I'm giving at the NINE magazine baseball conference in Phoenix in early March that Illinois Wesleyan U. as well as Branch Rickey's beloved alma mater Ohio Wesleyan took a stand against racial segregation. In 1966 they refused to allow its baseball team play against still-segregated Mississippi universities. Instead they competed against other northern schools Illinois State, Xavier of Ohio, and Parsons of Iowa  at the Keesler Air Force base in Biloxi. 

 

Turning to baseball news, many sportswriters and fans are increasingly agitated that star free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are still unsigned. Now even Aaron Judge is getting into the act. He's been quoted that the Yankees could find room for Harper in right field and he'd be willing to move to center field.

 

Aaron, calm down please.  Last spring training you put in a pitch for Machado to join the Yankees.  You are a very likable fellow and a budding great player, even Yankee haters admire you.  But let Brian Cashman general manage and you just get ready for another stellar season.

 

It's bad enough when fans in too many cities have little hope to contend. 

 

With the Knicks and Rangers pretty hopeless winter teams in NYC and only the Brooklyn Nets giving glimmers of basketball hope, I've been enjoying the arts much more than winter pro sports. For those who love the work of Milos Forman - the Czech exile who came to the USA after the failed "socialism with a human face"1968 revolution in his home country - Forman's first American film, "Taking Off", is playing two more times at the Film Forum on Houston Street.  This Thursday Feb 7 at 220 and 620p. 

 

I saw it on Saturday and the 1971 film holds up well. It is a realistic farce about the panicked efforts of a suburban couple (Buck Henry and Lynn Carlin) to find their teenaged daughter who in the later years of the hippie craze has run away to the East Village. 

 

They discover that other parents are in the same boat so they join the SPFC - the Society for Parents of Fugitive Children.  The scenes where they are instructed in smoking dope and the aftermath are as hilarious as I remembered. 

 

For opera buffs, you still have a chance to see a rare double-bill at the Met Opera, Tchaikovsky's last opera "Iolanta" (1892) and Bartok's only opera "Bluebeard's Castle".  Both were inspired by Grimm and other fairy tales of the mid-19th century. 

 

The Met Opera orchestra remains one of the treasures of our town, and this time the inventive staging matched the music.   (You can hear "Iolanta" and "Bluebeard's Castle" live on the Met's long-running radio broadcast this Sat Feb 9 at 1230P EST.)

 

"Without music life would be a mistake," Friedrich Nietzsche said on one of his better days.  

 

That's all for now - in the meantime always remember:  "Take it easy but take it." 

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