With the home opener today for the 2018 University of Louisville baseball team, there is a bit of a hole in the stands. Not a literal hole, but a deeper, intangible one. A hole that cannot be replaced, nor should it ever try to be filled. I’m talking about Todd Esser, quite possibly the greatest fan of Cardinal baseball the University has ever seen. That’s not to take away anything from Jim Patterson or the Jurich’s. However, Todd Esser was on a different level of fandom.
I first met Todd before a game early in my tenure with the baseball team. He was sitting in his chair above the stairs that lead from the basement out to the field. A smile spread across his face, and he raised his fist to bump it with mine as I rushed out to the field to help in any way possible. He stayed there waiting for one person, Coach Mac. I observed over the years that before games Todd would wait for everyone but he especially wanted to see Coach Mac before every game.
My relationship with Todd developed over the years from a fist bump before games and practices to meaningful discussions about my classes and his paintings. To this day I don’t have any idea if he knew how much he taught the young man who was studying to become a teacher. Todd taught me to have no excuses when going after the things that you deem important in life. The man was a painter, despite having little control of his hands. That didn’t stop him. Instead, he overcame the challenges in front of him because it was what he wanted to do. Todd didn’t care about how long it took him, or what struggles arose, he was going to be at each of our home games. He was on the bus hours before the game so he could make it on time. A few times I would call ahead for Todd so that he had a ride home after the games, especially the ones that went later than expected. His mindset has become one of the mantras that I use in my classroom and on the field: whatever it takes. That was the mindset of Todd. He wanted to paint so he did whatever it took. He loved the Cardinal 9 and he refused to miss a home game so he did whatever it took. Todd did not make excuses he got the job done. This wheelchair-bound man showed me what true service was.
His wheelchair always had a backpack on it. Everything he needed was in it. Generally, I just got him the water bottle from the backpack that he needed so he could yell at the umpire or cheer on the guys in the field, sometimes he needed a little extra if we were losing. His famous “Come on,” would be hurled towards the field and could be heard by all as he urged the team to victory. These moments of service allowed us to develop a bond over my time with the baseball team. He would ask about my classes and my future. He wanted to know about my brother and my sister. When he first met my brother, he would laugh at him for being so skinny but wanting to play football.
Last year during the Friday night game against Wake Forest was the last time I saw Todd. He was in his usual spot cheering on the team with everything he had. Donned in one of the baseball jerseys he had been gifted, he was sitting there when I walked up to him. The smile he cracked was the same big one that brought joy to so many others. He looked up at me and humbly asked for some water. I obliged so that he could get back to rooting for the home team. As we were leaving I found Todd and said goodbye for what I didn’t know would be the last time. My weekends in the spring and early summer will continue to be filled with the sounds of Sean Moth’s voice calling out the games, but there will be a void. Todd’s voice will no longer be heard through my speakers urging the boys to victory. Today’s opening game has that great momentum and excitement of another season of great expectations. Hopefully, this will be the season that ends in one final dog pile in Omaha. Yet, as the home opener begins let’s take a second to celebrate the life and legacy of the greatest Louisville Cardinal baseball fan: Todd Esser.