Sports

Celebrating Andrew Ladores, the toughest Florida Gator

Our first conversation was about sports.

Andrew was 7, I was 22, and we had just been matched in the Big Brothers Big Sisters youth mentorship organization.

He was a sickly little kid suffering from cystic fibrosis, I was a clumsy young sportswriter, and we were introduced to the South Florida Christmas party where he hugged and hid behind his mother’s leg.

We didn’t stand a chance. Then I asked him about his interests.

“I like sports,” he said.

“What do you know?” I said. “I also!”

More than four decades later, our last conversation was also about sports.

It was Sunday night recently, an NBA playoff game was on TV, I was watching from my home in Los Angeles while Andrew watched from his bed in Birmingham, Alabama. Together on the phone we marveled at the tension and chatted for most of the fourth quarter before the game ended with a dramatic miss and our usual shared celebration.

“What a game!” He screamed.

“Amazing game!” I screamed.

We usually spent the next half hour discussing the goal. Only this time there was a longer silence before Andrew finally admitted that he was tired of fighting the unrelenting pain and had to hang up.

“I love you, brother,” he said.

“I love you brother,” I said.

Bill Plaschke smiles with his arm around a young Andrew Ladores.

Bill Plaschke smiles with his arm around a young Andrew Ladores during the Ladores bar mitzvah in the 1980s.

(Ladores family)

Four days later he was dead, my brother, my son, my best friend. Our awkward meeting in the winter of 1980 blossomed into a wonderful relationship of almost 42 years that ended cruelly when cystic fibrosis finally ended its relentless march.

Andrew Ladores died on June 2 at the age of 49 from a pulmonary embolism that damaged his lungs and kidneys beyond repair. In the days since, I’ve reached for the phone countless, and in vain, to speak to him in a common language that has made two strangers one family.

I wanted to talk about the basketball game last night. I wanted to make a difference in our fantasy baseball league. I wanted to address the disagreement between these college football coaches.

Amid the stifling silence of the unanswered observations, I was reminded of the importance of a pastime that so often seems so trivial.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters organization brought us together, but sport kept us together. From the moment we started playing baseball cards on our second visit to that final NBA game, just before he breathed his last, sport has been the bond that has weathered cross-country moves and long separations and numerous life changes to become a cornerstone to become our lives.

He would fly to see me at baseball games. I toasted his bar mitzvah. We hung out at Super Bowls and All Star events and March Madness. I attended his college degree. We eventually became longtime partners in fantasy football and baseball leagues. I gave it away at his wedding.

Andrew Ladores walks down the aisle at his wedding with his mother and Bill Plaschke.

At Andrew Ladores’ wedding in 1999, Bill Plaschke and Andrew’s mother Joan walk him down the aisle.

(Ladores family)

A week before his death, Andrew went online from the Birmingham home he shared with his wife Sigrid and sons Asher and Cooper and listened to every minute of a radio show in Los Angeles that I co-hosted. He wrote me comments throughout the show, typically Andrew, tearing up some players, hugging others, engaging me in private debates even as I did the same thing on air.

That was real sports talk. That was perfect for us. I should have yelled at him in public. I will do that now.

Long live the memory of the toughest boy I’ve ever met, far surviving predictions that by the age of 15 he would be dead, struggling through a double lung transplant and countless other surgeries to become an accomplished husband, father, lawyer and become a real estate agent.

Long live our enduring connection. Big Brothers Big Sisters asked us for a year and we gave them a lifetime by staying close to them from opposite sides of the country, through endless gossip, game viewing and fantasy victories.

Long live the power of love through the power of sport.

He was so slight that the disease stunted his growth to about 5ft 9 and 145lbs.

But Andrew Ladores was a giant.

He was a giant when, as a 10-year-old, he flew fearlessly cross-country from South Florida to my new home in Seattle, donned a Mariners uniform and played outfield during batting practice with an amazing man named Roy Thomas.

A young Andrew Ladores smiles with his father Kenneth.

A young Andrew Ladores smiles with Bill Plaschke in 1981.

(Ladores family)

He was a giant when, after graduating from high school, he engaged Orel Hershiser in a long conversation when Hershiser kindly called him from the Dodgers’ clubhouse with congratulations.

He was a giant as he bravely joked with Charles Barkley when he met him during one of our boxing trips to Las Vegas.

Andrew never thought about his death sentence. He was too busy celebrating a brave life that soon became my life, my phone rang 24/7 with the same basic question.

“What’s up buddy?” he would say. “Did you see…”

Did I see last night’s game? Did I see last night’s controversy? Did I see that great Dodgers playoff game… Andrew, of course I see it, I’m sitting here reporting it!

When I contracted a bad case of COVID two years ago, he called me crying and wondering what his life would be like if I died. I choked back tears at the unspoken and more likely notion that I would be just as lost if he died first.

Sometimes we’ve argued about LeBron James and Michael Jordan. Sometimes we argued with Tom Brady against everyone else. We were always debating Pac-12 versus SEC, home of his beloved University of Florida and rumored to be the toughest players in the country.

Considering he was one of those alligators, I agree.

Sometimes I was irritated that all our conversations and visits seemed to revolve around sports.

But then, a long time ago, when I was briefly hospitalized while covering the Final Four in Tampa, he was driving from his home in South Florida and unexpectedly showed up at my bedside.

“From now on, I’ll be directing,” he announced to the sisters. “I’ve spent more time in hospitals than anyone else.”

Over time it became clear that he was more than a sports buddy, he was a true brother, a devoted son, a caring friend.

Bill Plaschke and Andrew Ladores.

Bill Plaschke and Andrew Ladores.

(Ladores family)

He wrote legal letters for my daughter in her dispute with an unruly landlord. He advised my son on real estate matters before he bought his first house. He showed up at family weddings and funerals. My kids called him “Uncle Andrew”.

When I contracted a bad case of COVID two years ago, he called me crying and wondering what his life would be like if I died. I choked back tears at the unspoken and more likely notion that I would be just as lost if he died first.

In fact, on Sunday night, three days after his death, I collapsed at my keyboard while trying to figure out this week’s fantasy baseball roster. In fact, our bond was strongest around our fantasy league teams, who were called “Billfish” after a combination of my first name and Fishbein, Andrew’s birth surname.

Billfish spent hours on the phone preparing designs and hours afterward evaluating selections. Billfish would text each player’s great or terrible performance and then argue loudly about whether to drop or trade that player.

We’ve been doing this together in the same baseball and football leagues for more than 20 years, and at the end of every season, whether we’ve won a championship or gone down, we’ve always texted each other the same, two-word thing, which keeps getting to me will respond.

“Swordfish Forever!”

What a game. Incredible game. I love you brother.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-06-09/andrew-ladores-life-loyal-friend-death-legacy Celebrating Andrew Ladores, the toughest Florida Gator

Emma Bowman

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