Every year, the town of Red Bud, Illinois seems to get mentioned during Hall of Fame ceremonies and induction speeches. Red Bud this and Red Bud that, has become the norm and is always referred to as “The Softball Capital of Southern Illinois.” Tonight, we get to meet the individual responsible for that nametag and the establishment of the USSSA in southern Illinois.
His name is Clem Esker, a founding father of sorts, but one that perhaps would rather be remembered as a pitcher, a coach, a director, and a guy that just loved the game enough to pass down this love to his kids. His oldest, son Tom has been instrumental in keeping softball fever alive in Red Bud, son Tony has put in many years taking care of the diamonds, while son Tim has been involved in umpiring at the facility, while, granddaughter Jackie can be found running the concessions at the complex.
Clem says that we can thank that other softball organization for bringing USSSA softball to Red Bud, as they attempted to bully the locals into holding only their tournaments at the Red Bud diamonds. Clem stated, “There was a lot of things going on that we did not like.”
With the help of Bill Mathews and Fred Gould from St. Louis, big name teams began arriving in Red Bud to play USSSA softball. Teams like Slinger Foundry from Wisconsin and others from Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky soon found their way to the small southern Illinois community.
Perhaps the largest crowd ever assembled at the park was when Forest Hills from Rockford was defeated by the local Shamrocks in the first USSSA National Qualifier held at the park. It was estimated that over 2000 people stood four deep around the facility to witness softball history that day. After the victory, a donation blanket was passed, that raised over $2000 to help the team with expenses to Baltimore, MD.
Many years ago, Clem put Red Bud on the USSSA softball map. Tonight, the USSSA honors one of Red Bud’s finest, by placing him into the Illinois Softball Hall of Fame.