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St. Louisan mounts a true grass-roots campaign for Stan the Man

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 8, 2010 - Timing is important in the news business, and Nick Rousseau came "this close" to being interviewed for a Beacon story about the Cardinals' efforts to get Stan Musial a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In April, Rousseau, 19, began a Facebook campaign with a title that speaks for itself: "Change All of 8th Street to Stan Musial Street." As of this moment, he has enlisted 4,516 friends, and he's hoping that some of them will show up for a rally Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. at Busch Stadium to support his cause.

Rousseau missed his earlier shot at an interview because his cell phone was off, and he didn't have internet access while attending a Boy Scout camp. By the time he responded, the Musial story was online and I was back to writing about economic mayhem. Game over.

Yes, timing can be everything in the news business. Unless you have a mom who knows how to write an email on your behalf with just the right mixture of questioning, courtesy and disappointment -- not for herself but for her son.

And, so, between interviews this week about bad mortgages and extended unemployment, I met with Nick Rousseau at the McDonald's on Bayless Avenue, and we drank vats of Coke for a dollar, and I listened to why he thinks he can swing this honor for a baseball icon who retired way back in 1963.

"If Facebook could get Betty White on 'Saturday Night Live,' Facebook can get Eighth Street changed," Rousseau said confidently about his group page.

He believes that the chunk of pavement by the stadium that in 2008 was given the honorary name Stan Musial Drive is simply not enough. He wants Musial Street extended from the stadium to Washington Avenue.

Rousseau said he appreciates the Cardinals' highly publicized "Stand for Stan" campaign, but he's mounting this one totally on his own, getting by with a little help from his Facebook friends. He also recognizes that his plan would require city action, and he's contacted Alderwoman Phyllis Young about mounting a petition drive to get the backing of people who live along the street. He acknowledges that he's not sure just how difficult that might be because of the number of businesses located along the downtown strip.

Rousseau adds that it would be nice to see Musial awarded a presidential medal, but that's a national honor that has no bearing on his campaign

"My goal is to keep working this until it happens," Rousseau said. "Let's get something local here. Not just two statues at Busch stadium. Not a little block. Let's get the whole street. If he can get a national award, let's do something local here."

Thank you for being 'The Man'

This has been a notable week for Rousseau. Today -- July 8 - he is celebrating the second anniversary of earning the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank awarded by the Boy Scouts of America. On Friday morning, he is scheduled to be interviewed on KTRS.

A few weeks ago, KSDK aired a brief video story about his campaign, although Rousseau was not interviewed.

These are all telling achievements for a young man who, his mom says, has often heard the word "no."

Nick Rousseau was born with a condition called verbal apraxia, a speech impediment that means that his listeners must pay close attention if they want to understand what he is saying.

"In his brain he knew what he wanted to say, but it's hard getting it out," said Michele Rousseau. "He's had speech therapy his whole life but hasn't been able to form some of the letters.''

But along with the apraxia, Nick Rousseau got a healthy dose of self-confidence and persistence genes, which have equipped him to deal with those who too readily dismiss him.

"His whole life, people have said, 'He's not going to be this. He's not going to be that.' Or, 'You can't do this. You can't do that,'" said his mom. "It's exactly what he needs to hear to do it. He always likes to prove to people that he can do things."

Rousseau, who graduated from Bayless High School in 2009, attends St. Louis Community College at Meramec. He's studying the basics, right now, but plans to be a filmmaker so he can further explore his interest in history. For now, he's posting early efforts on YouTube, shot with a hand-held video camera. Does he see himself following in the footsteps of, say, filmmaker Ken Burns? 

"Oh, yes," he said, adding, "Ken Burns is my competition."

Rousseau recalls watching Burns' classic documentary "Baseball" with his father Greg who passed down to his son the family's love of St. Louis baseball and respect for Musial.

"It's a good piece," Rousseau said, adding, "He doesn't have enough Stan."

Rousseau said he got the idea for renaming the street after he photographed the bronze statue of the Man outside the stadium this spring.

"Why Stan Musial? He's a Hall of Famer, MVP," Rousseau said. "And when you think of St. Louis baseball you've got to think of Stan before anybody else -- even counting [Albert] Pujols and [Mark] McGwire. Because you don't know about them yet," Rousseau said. "He might be history, but he's still St. Louis. He's part of a greater story."

Rousseau said he met Musial once with his father, but truth be told -- and an Eagle Scout always tells the truth -- he doesn't remember meeting the Cardinals great.

"My father has an autographed baseball of Stan Musial, and he told me, 'You were with me, Nick,' " Rousseau said. "Whenever I see Musial on the field on opening day or see him in a video, I just know I've met him. I'm a St. Louisan. I didn't see him swing that bat, but his spirit is with me. He's a great role model. Kids like me should get out and do something more than just sit at home and say I don't want to."

Rousseau has practiced what he would tell Musial, if given the chance.

"If I could meet Mr. Musial one more time, I would let him know, 'Mr. Musial, it's a pleasure meeting you. Plus, thank you for being The Man.' "

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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