Plaschke: Match made in heaven — celebrating a ‘little brother’ for life

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 mentoring organization.

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

We had no chance. Then I asked about his interests.

“I like sports,” he said.

“What do you know?” I said. “So do I!”

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

It was a recent Sunday night, an NBA playoff game was on TV, I was watching from my home in Los Angeles while Andrew was watching from his bed in Birmingham, Ala. Together over the phone we marveled at the suspense, talking throughout most of the fourth quarter before the game ended with a dramatic miss and our usual shared cheers.

“What a game!” he screamed.

“Incredible game!” I screamed.

Usually, we would spend the next half hour discussing the finish. Only this time, there was a prolonged silence before Andrew finally admitted he was weary of fighting relentless pain and had to hang up.

“Love you, bro,” he said.

“Love you, bro,” I said.

Bill Plaschke smiles with his arm around a young Andrew Ladores during 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 nearly 42 years of a wondrous relationship that cruelly ended when the cystic fibrosis finally finished its unforgiving march.

Andrew Ladores passed on June 2 at the age of 49 due to pulmonary embolism that irreparably damaged his lungs and kidneys. In the days since then, I have countlessly and futilely reached for the phone to speak to him in a shared language that turned two strangers into family.

I wanted to talk about last night’s basketball game. I wanted to make a move in our fantasy baseball league. I wanted to debate the disagreement between those college football coaches.

Amid the oppressive silence of the unanswered observations, I have been reminded of the importance of a pastime that so often seems so trivial.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters organization brought us together, but sports kept us together. From the moment we began playing with baseball cards on our second visit to that last NBA game shortly before his final breaths, sports was the bond that survived cross-country moves and long separations and numerous life changes to become a cornerstone of our lives.

He would fly to see me at baseball games. I gave the toast at his bar mitzvah. We would hang out at Super Bowls and All-Star events and March Madness. I attended his college graduation. We eventually became longtime partners in fantasy football and baseball leagues. I gave him 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, from the Birmingham home he shared with his wife, Sigrid, and sons, Asher and Cooper, Andrew went online and listened to every minute of a Los Angeles radio show I was co-hosting. He would text me with comments throughout the broadcast, typical Andrew, ripping some players, embracing others, engaging me in private debate even as I was doing the same on the air.

That was real sports talk. That was perfect us. I should have given him a public shout-out. I will do so now.

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

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

Long live the strength of love through the power of sports.

He was so slight, the disease stunting his growth to about 5 foot 9 and 145 pounds.

Yet Andrew Ladores was a giant.

He was a giant when, as a 10-year-old, he fearlessly flew cross country from south Florida to my new home in Seattle and put on a Mariners uniform and played in the 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 while with Bill Plaschke in 1981.

(Ladores family)

He was a giant when, upon his high school graduation, he engaged Orel Hershiser in a lengthy conversation when Hershiser kindly phoned him from the Dodgers clubhouse with congratulations.

He was a giant when he boldly joked around with Charles Barkley upon meeting him during one of our boxing trips to Las Vegas.

Andrew never thought about his death sentence. He was too busy celebrating a courageous life that soon became my life, my phone ringing at all hours 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? Was I seeing this great Dodgers playoff game … Andrew, of course I’m seeing it, I’m sitting here covering it!

When I contracted a bad case of COVID two years ago, he called me crying, wondering how his life would be if I died. I stifled my tears at the unspoken and likelier notion that I would be just as lost if he died first.

Sometimes we would argue LeBron James versus Michael Jordan. Sometimes we would argue Tom Brady versus everybody. Always, we would debate Pac-12 versus SEC, home to his beloved University of Florida and what he claimed were the toughest players in the country.

Considering he was one of those Gators, I agree.

Sometimes I would get irritated that our entire discussions and visits seemed to rotate around sports.

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

“I’ll be directing things from now on,” he announced to the nurses. “I’ve spent more time in hospitals than any of you.”

Over time it became clear 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 battle with an ornery landlord. He gave real estate advice to my son before his first home purchase. He showed up at family weddings and funerals. My children called him “Uncle Andrew.”

When I contracted a bad case of COVID two years ago, he called me crying, wondering how his life would be if I died. I stifled my tears at the unspoken and likelier notion that I would be just as lost if he died first.

Sure enough, Sunday night, three days after his death, I broke down at the keyboard while trying to figure out this week’s fantasy baseball lineup. Our bond was indeed strongest around our fantasy league teams, named “Billfish” after a combination of my first name and Fishbein, Andrew’s last name by birth.

Billfish would spend hours over the phone in preparation for drafts, then hours afterward evaluating the picks. Billfish would text each other with every great or terrible performance by one of its players, and then loudly argue over whether to drop or trade that player.

We’ve done this together for more than 20 years in the same baseball and football leagues, and at the end of every season, whether we won a championship or finished in the cellar, we would always text each other the same thing, two words which will resonate with me always.

“Billfish Forever!”

What a game. Incredible game. Love you, bro.



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