SYNAGOGUE SOFTBALL TAKES OFF…….
By Joel Engel
In November of 1995, Barry Schoenbrun took his young son Nathan to a Temple Judea Sports Night, where the boy could meet Tommy Lasorda, Steve Garvey and other LA Dodger greats. While there, he was approached by the temple’s brotherhood president, Joel Greene, who’d heard that Schoenbrun, at 44, could still play a little ball.
“Yeah, I still play a bit here and there,” said Schoenbrun, a shortstop in the Baltimore Orioles minor league system before becoming a real estate developer and entrepreneur.
“You know, the temple has a softball team,” Greene said.
The news surprised Schoenbrun. And no wonder: Though theoretically in existence for more than a year, the guys had yet to play a game. Which is why Greene suggested that Schoenbrun try putting the team in contact with other temples that may have teams.
Schoenbrun, who was probably born with a sword in his hand, jumped at the challenge. He figured that, with so many synagogues in the West San Fernando Valley (his temple, Temple Judea, is located in Tarzana), it might be possible to organize an inter-temple league. Within a few days he had commitments from several other men’s clubs and brotherhoods to field teams contingent on his getting the whole thing up and running.
Next call was to the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Within minutes, he’d booked Woodland Hills Park on Sunday mornings. When the woman on the other end of the phone asked him for the name of his league so that she could put it on the permit, Schoenbrun, without a league let alone a league name, blurted out the immortal words: “Synagogue Softball.” “What else was I going to call it?” he says now. “I didn’t even think about it … I thought it was softball and it was synagogues. Done.”
That first year, the league was ragtag, composed of seven teams, one of which was formed the day the league began, when another dropped out. The third year, the league grew to 11 teams and, then in 1999, 14 teams competed for the coveted title of Synagogue Softball Champions, won in ’97 and ’98 by Temple Judea.
After each season, banquets were held so that the teams could mingle socially and receive awards. That annual event also raised some money for a good cause – Patrons of the Children, an LAPD charity that helps take care of abused young people. (Schoenbrun turns over any money left in S.S.’s coffers to the group.) The league is a bonafide nonprofit, charitable organization.
Last month began Synagogue Softball’s fourth season. Almost 300 men (and a few women) of all ages and skill levels – from has-beens to never-wases to still-got-its – participate. The only requirement is that each player actually belong to the temple for which they play.
Games are still at Woodland Hills Park, beginning at 9, 11, and 1, and the stands are often filled with wives and children, parents and friends of the players. Many of them munch on bagels and cream cheese provided by Western Bagel. (Another sponsor, Play it Again Sports in Studio City, gives each team equipment bags and score books, as well as deep discounts on merchandise.)
This season, however, Schoenbrun hasn’t yet secured the fields past March (the schedule ends in June), because the city is trying to expand it’s own leagues. One has no doubt, however, that Schoenbrun will find a way to solve the problem. In fact, having already trademarked the name Synagogue Softball, he has firm plans to expand the league in 2000 and beyond to encompass the Westside as well as the Valley. He says there almost certainly will be 20-24 teams enrolled, with the games being played at two different locations, one in each region. The winners of each region will play for the “world championship” of Synagogue Softball.
That the league exists at all is a testament to Schoenbrun’s tenacity and organizational skills. That it continues to thrive and grow is a reflection of his tireless (unpaid) efforts as its commissioner.
“I just want people to come out and have a good time,” he says. “We all love to play, and for a lot of us, it has been a long time since we did. Guys are always coming up to tell me that it’s the highlight of their week. The bonus is to see all the wives and children from numerous temples enjoy and interchange as they do. It works.”