The Ladenburg boys didn't name the Softball team they organized the Family for nothing. They had a pretty good reason. Actually, they had nine good reasons: Frank, John, George, Mike, Barry, David, Dan, Alan and Dale, the Brothers Ladenburg, who range in age from 22 to 40.
You don't have to be a Ladenburg sibling to play for the Family, which competes in a municipal softball league in Tacoma, Wash., although some blood or marital relationship is an advantage. In 11 seasons assorted cousins and brothers-in-law have worn the green-and-white pinstripes. A few friends have even squeezed onto the roster of the 13-or 14-man team.
The Family takes its softball seriously, playing between 70 and 80 games a year in a season that stretches from March to October, including a month of spring training. The team was organized in 1977, and going into this season, it had put together an enviable 598-222 record, for a winning percentage of .729. In 1981 the Family won the state slo-pitch championship, and it has collected more than enough trophies—88 at last count—to fill a room in the Tacoma home of the brothers' parents, Lucille and Frank.
The senior Ladenburgs also have seven daughters: Kathy, Marlene, Nadine, Barbara, Mary, Gail and Lissa. The Ladenburg sisters, who range in age from 21 to 41 and are as athletic as their brothers, formed a women's softball team, also in 1977. Although they don't play together as often as their brothers do, they are just as serious about the game. Marlene once played for the women's team only two days after giving birth to the first of her four children. Mary is the only sister who has played for the men's team. About 10 years ago she filled in as catcher for one tournament game after one of her brothers was injured in an automobile accident.
The Family's dream team didn't become reality until October 1984, when the youngest brother, Dale, turned 18 and thus became eligible to play municipal league ball. For the first time, the Family could boast a lineup that had Ladenburg brothers at all nine positions. Putting the team together was primarily the work of three of the older brothers, Frank Jr., John and Mike. "When John and I were in college," recalls Frank, "we talked about having a family team, realizing that eventually we would all be old enough to play together. I had the tough job. I had to hang on." Frank is now 40.
"In 1977 many of us were playing for other teams and some of those teams didn't play enough games or enter tournaments during the summer," says John. "So we called everyone together and decided to form a family team."
That spring the Family made its debut in a municipal league with a team that eventually comprised seven Ladenburg brothers and four first cousins. More than once opposing players and managers accused the Family of trying to use the same batter twice in an inning, particularly when the twins, Dan and David, played. Complaints like that persisted for several years, until the team became better known around the state.
By forming the Family, the brothers were extending a childhood of playing sports into adult life. Frank Sr. says a gang of kids was always playing baseball in front of their house on Steele Street or in the vacant lot behind it. "My kids have always played together," he says. "It's one of the joys of a big family. I feel sorry for only children."
Seven of the brothers played high school baseball. George, the Family's shortstop, and Mike, the leftfielder, are perhaps the best athletes of the group. George played baseball at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. Mike played football at Olympic College in Bremerton and had a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks as a wide receiver. They are the primary long-ball threats for the Family, which stresses defense and timely hitting rather than power.
"We are not like a lot of slo-pitch teams, a bunch of 6'8", 250-pounders who smash the ball over the fence," says John. "We are known for defense and hitting for average. I remember one season when we had eight players who batted .440 or better. We've played together so long that cooperating is second nature. Our infield has been together eight years and through hundreds of games. We know whether someone can make a play and how far our outfielders can throw. You have to be dedicated to play for us. We are out to have fun, but winning is fun to us."
"I've traveled around a lot for my work [as a high-voltage electrician] and played for many teams," says Mike, "but I come back here because this is the best team. It has an aggressive, go-get-it attitude, and you can assume that if there's a play on the field, someone will go for it. The only time we get upset is when someone doesn't do his job."
The Family plays three types of soft-ball—two forms of slo-pitch and modified fast-pitch. Each year they spend between $4,000 and $5,000 on equipment, uniforms and tournament entry fees. The first few seasons the brothers raised the money with garage sales. Then John and Frank Jr., who are lawyers, created a foundation, and the team is now run as a nonprofit athletic fraternity. The foundation holds annual Reno nights as fund-raisers.
Fielding a team with all nine of the brothers in the lineup is becoming increasingly difficult. Several of the Ladenburgs have jobs in other Washington cities, and Dale attends college in Spokane, nearly 300 miles away. But the Family is in no danger of running short of players. In addition to those assorted cousins, brothers-in-law and friends, a new group of Ladenburgs is growing up, eager to don the Family's green-and-white uniforms. Last September, John's son, John Jr., 18, became the first of the second-generation Ladenburgs to play for the Family. There are thirty-one other Ladenburg children waiting to join their parents on the diamond.
"I'll bet that in 10 years we'll have two teams," says John, "a senior one for the older brothers and a second one for the younger brothers and the kids. We'll have an intrafamily rivalry."
Dad and Mom keep the Family's trophies—88 at last count—in their Tacoma home.
Joel Schwarz, a free-lance writer, is an only child who had to search for his teammates.