VILLA RIDGE — Opening day for Major League Baseball is still many weeks away and feeling even more so as the temperature plummets back to winter norms from its unseasonably warm highs, but one native son already has his eye on the ball.
Nick Straatmann, son of Terry and Debbie Straatmann and 2005 graduate of Washington High School, is as serious and passionate a baseball fan as they come.
He's only 25, but Straatmann has already written a book about the sport, "Polishing the Diamond, Fixing Baseball's Fundamental Flaws," and also maintains a baseball blog called Polishing the Diamond.
He's hoping to add one more feather to his baseball cap — 2012 MLB Fan Cave winner — and the only way he'll get there is with a little help from his hometown friends.
If you're not familiar with the MLB Fan Cave, you're probably not as big a baseball fan as Straatmann.
MLB introduced this "immersive fan experience" last season for one lucky winner and a "wing man."
Some 10,000 fans entered, but only two were chosen.
Their job was a tough one for any baseball fan — report daily to the 15,000 square foot MLB Fan Cave at Fourth Street and Broadway (formerly the home of Tower Records) in New York City's Greenwich Village. There they watched every one of the 2,400-plus regular season games along with all of the post season games from a wall of big screen TVs, all the while "chronicling their experiences and sharing their viewpoints on baseball and pop culture" through videos, blogs and social media.
The bonus was getting to interview various MLB players, celebrities, entertainers and musicians who stopped by the cave for visits.
Straatmann, who learned of the MLB Fan Cave contest last year through his college roommate, entered in 2011 but struck out. Now he's back in the lineup for 2012, having made it as one of 50 finalists from across the country.
He just got the call Monday letting him know he had made it to the next round, but if he wants to advance any further, he will need the power of the people behind him.
All 50 of the finalists created videos explaining why they should be selected for the 2012 MLB Fan Cave. The videos are posted on MLBFanCave.com, and the ones that get the most votes will move forward to the next round of the contest — being flown to spring training for interviews.
Straatmann isn't sure if that means the Fan Cave contestants will be the ones being interviewed like a job interview, or if they will be the ones interviewing MLB players as an audition of sorts. Either way, he's ready for it.
Voting for the best videos began Feb. 8 and continues through Wednesday.
Straatmann's video showcases his playful personality, love for baseball and knowledge of the sport as he tells why he has all of the "superpowers" necessary to excel in the Fan Cave.
First, he has "the creativity of Ty Cobb."
Ripping off his button-down oxford shirt to reveal a Detroit Tigers jersey, Straatmann tells how when he couldn't afford a ticket to the 2011 World Series, he didn't let that stop him from watching the riveting Game Six in downtown St. Louis.
Using some discarded cardboard boxes and a couple of wall mirrors, Straatmann built an 8-foot periscope so he could watch the game from outside the center field wall of Busch Stadium as the St. Louis Cardinals staged a comeback over the Texas Rangers.
It wasn't as good a view as if he had just stayed home and watched the game on TV, but he wanted to be as close to the action as possible.
"Everybody was about a half-inch tall, but I really just wanted to say I was there," Straatmann said.
He certainly attracted a lot of attention — although security never asked him to stop what he was doing.
TV news crews, including Fox 2 St. Louis, interviewed him about his creation, and other fans asked if they could take peeks, too. Other fans without tickets who had gathered outside the stadium turned to Straatmann for a play-by-play report of the action.
"I was playing announcer for everybody," Straatmann said.
Oddly enough, the Game Six periscope wasn't Straatmann's first. He had used the same creative approach to watch the All-Star game when it was last in St. Louis.
Next in the video, Straatmann notes he also has "the versatility of Matt Kemp," who was known as both a good offensive and defensive player.
Now wearing a Dodgers jersey, Straatmann outlines his experience covering baseball — from writing about it for "local online newspapers" (aka The Missourian) to his blog and his book.
Finally, Straatmann mentions his "extensive acting experience." He was active in his high school theater and was also a top 10 finalist in a video contest sponsored by MLB and Baby Ruth in honor of the centennial anniversary of the song, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
Straatmann's younger sister, Makenzie, filmed the video for him in November in their parents' backyard.
While there will be multiple winners in the 2012 MLB Fan Cave contest, there will also be a new twist.
The competition won't end once the winners are chosen, the website notes. Winners will continue competing in a series of challenges throughout the season, with fans online helping decide who gets to stay in the Fan Cave and who gets eliminated.
A final winner will be named before the end of the 2012 World Series.
The 2012 Fan Cave is currently being redesigned to feature new technology and interactive elements, according to the website.
The Fan Cave will host parties and musical performances, as well as other events throughout the baseball season.
With 32 14-foot windows surrounding the space, fans on the street will be able to watch hosts in action. Fans also will be able to experience the MLB Fan Cave during regularly scheduled events which are open to the public.
Looking ahead to the end of the voting process and the call that will tell him if he gets to move forward or not, Straatmann is keeping calm.
"I'm trying to stay realistic," he said. "Even if I don't get this, I'm lucky because I have a good job and a good family."