LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - As Louisville prepared to make the trip to the 2019 College World Series, it did so without longtime super fan and honorary team member Todd Esser.
Esser died in 2017, but his family made the trip this year, and said they’re proud to carry on his tradition of supporting the Cards.
He was at every practice, he was at every game, he was at chapel, he was at the pre-game meals, he was at everything, he was just part of the team," Fritz Esser, Todd's father, said.
Esser, confined to a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, adopted the Louisville baseball team as a second family.
“He said my brothers had a wife, my brothers had a child, had children, a wife and a house.” Fritz Esser said. "He said I couldn’t have any of those things, so I adopted the UofL team as my family, my extended family."
At his funeral in 2017, Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell delivered the eulogy, and his teammates served as his pallbearers.
“Oh my gosh, you can’t explain in words what it meant as a parent, to see how a team took him on, just like one of their own, and treated him like one of their own.” Fritz Esser said.
Todd remains a part of Louisville baseball, as his teammates pass stories of his legacy down to teams to come.
“Coach Mac still talks about him all the time, and makes references to him,” Cardinals pitcher Nick Bennett said. "So we absolutely tell the younger guys about him. And everybody still knows who he is. He’s a very big part of our program."
Following his passing in 2017, Louisville installed a mural-size picture of Todd in the baseball facility, as the last thing players see before they head out to the field.
“Before we walk out to every game, there’s a little shrine of Todd” second baseman Justin Lavey said. "So I mean, you can’t walk past it without recognizing him. I’ve got a little cool thing I do, I give him knuckles, he’s got his hand up there so I kind of give him knucks as my good luck charm. I do that before every game. So that’s a little thing we’ve got going.
Head Coach Dan McDonnell said he fondly remembers the trips Esser made to Omaha with the team in 2013, 2014 and 2017. One specific memory he said stuck out was that off a practice in Omaha, where the team ran Esser around the bases in his wheelchair.
“It’s always a great memory I’m going to have, how much fun Todd had, not just being a part of our program, but coming to the College World Series,” McDonnell said. 'Just like a player, just like a fan, this is where you want to be."
Fritz Esser said he’s proud to carry on his son’s legacy of inspiring others to overcome adversity, and supporting Cardinal Baseball.