COSTA MESA, Calif. – There are two numbers that Kent Watanabe sees everywhere.
“Sometimes I’ll see a combination of the 14 with the 22. It’s just pretty amazing. It continues to happen,” says Watanabe.
Twenty two was his son’s number, Jourdan Watanabe, a stand-out, switch-hitting catcher for John Altobelli’s Pirates.
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“He was a really good person, and that’s why his teammates loved him so much,” says Watanabe.
Altobelli, who along with his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, died in the tragic helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who was number 14.
“It was like losing Jourdan all over again. It was devastating,” says Watanabe.
When Jourdan died suddenly in 2009, Altobelli wouldn’t let his memory fade. Twenty two was placed everywhere at Wendell Pickens Field. Jourdan’s slogan “Dream Big” became the program’s motto.
“He’s with us all the time,” says Watanabe.
Watanabe, who is a hitting instructor at Orange Coast College, walks with a limp. But that story tells you how far back the Watanabes and Altobellis go. He suffered an aneurysm in Portland just a 1-and-a-half after Jourdan’s death. Altobelli was on his way to Oregon to see his son play baseball. His flight number was 14-22.
Watanabe’s wife Annie knew who to call.
“She called him and asked him to please be there for me. At that point I had a three percent chance of survival, and she if in case I go, she didn’t want me to be alone,” Watanabe says.
On Tuesday, as the Pirates played their season opener, the first game after Altobelli’s death. Watanabe, Annie, and their older son Lee, now honor the two fallen Pirates at the place both Jourdan and Altobelli loved so much. The game’s starting pitcher fittingly the player selected to wear Jourdan’s 22.
The numbers, like the people, can never be replaced.
“It’s bigger than life. It’s bigger than beauty. It’s bigger than the most precious thing in the world. And for different people that means different things. For us, it’s just incomprehensible,” Watanabe says.
But they will forever be Pirates.