CLEARWATER, Fla. — Scott Kingery spent two months bouncing between second base and right field — a utility player in an elite collegiate summer league — before he pleaded with his coach to give him a chance to play shortstop.
A year later, Kingery was a second-round pick on the fast track to the Phillies. But he was invited that summer to Cape Cod to be a reserve for the Brewster Whitecaps. And Kingery, who had already risen from walk-on to starter at the University of Arizona, was quick to outperform his role for Brewster and became one of the team’s five All-Stars.
So he took his chance to make one request.
“He said, ‘Come look at the lineup,’ ” Kingery said. “I looked at the lineup, and I was at shortstop.”
The Whitecaps took the field that afternoon for pregame warmups, and Kingery unleashed his first throw from shortstop. He watched it sail across the diamond, over the first baseman’s head, and into the stands.
“Almost hit someone,” Kingery said. “After infield practice is over, he said, ‘I hope I didn’t make the wrong decision.’ I said, ‘No, I just had to get that one out of the way.’ He said, ‘I know. You’re good.’ He was just a player’s coach and wanted the best for his players.”
That memory returned to Kingery last month after he read the stunning news that John Altobelli, the Cape Cod coach who had helped build Kingery’s confidence on his way to the majors, was one of nine people who died in the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant. Altobelli’s wife, Keri, and daughter Alyssa also died in the crash. Alyssa Altobelli played on the same basketball team as Bryant’s daughter Gianna, who also died. The group was en route to a game.
“It’s heartbreaking to see that happen to such a good coach who’s put so much into baseball,” Kingery said.
Altobelli, 56, was the baseball coach at Orange Coast College, a powerhouse junior college in Southern California, for 27 seasons. The American Baseball Coaches Association named him last August as the national coach of the year.
Altobelli led OCC to four state titles, won more than 700 games, and helped guide many of his junior-college players to Division I programs. An ESPN article last month remembered Altobelli as a “collector of lost baseball souls,” because he provided opportunities to players who thought the game had moved on without them.
He coached Brewster for three seasons, with Kingery’s 2014 team being Altobelli’s final year on Cape Cod. He also coached Aaron Judge of the Yankees and Jeff McNeil of the Mets before they became All-Stars. The league is an annual collection of the nation’s premier college players, many of whom are using wooden bats for the first time.
Two years before Kingery played for Brewster, he walked on at Arizona after the head coach responded to the emails Kingery had sent to every coach he could, hoping someone would give him a chance. He moved to the outfield, cracked Arizona’s starting lineup as a sophomore, and hit .354. The kid who once filled up email inboxes was then sent to play with the nation’s best talent.
“I wasn’t like one of the headline guys there, but I ended up playing really well,” said Kingery, who hit .312 playing for Altobelli and was named the league’s most improved player.
“He was really the one who pushed for me to get into the All-Star Game. I think I was one of those borderline guys. And because I wasn’t a big name there, they could have put someone else in. But he really pushed everybody to get me into that game and thought I deserved it. That’s the kind of manager he was.”
Kingery returned to Arizona a few weeks later and had another strong season, and his professional career began the next summer. He reached the major leagues in 2018, less than four years after playing for Altobelli, and the Phillies have used him for two seasons as a utility player, the same way Altobelli did.
He seems set to open the season as the starting third baseman. But most of his starts in the major leagues have come at shortstop, the position he once pleaded with his coach to give him a chance to play.