Every day in Southern Illinois, countless young baseball fans dream of someday calling Busch Stadium in St. Louis their office.
For one Alhambra native and Eastern Illinois alumnus, that dream has come true — although not quite in the way you might think.
No, Jared Haukap doesn't play for the St. Louis Cardinals Major League Baseball team, but the 2009 EIU graduate still goes to work at their home stadium every day, operating the park's numerous video boards during every home game.
"I am the Daktronics operator here at Busch Stadium for all the games," said Haukap, who majored in communication studies at EIU after graduating from Highland High School in Madison County. "During the off days or when the Cardinals are out of town, I do production work here at the stadium as well."
Anything you see on the video boards during a game is there because Haukap put it there; this excludes the main video board in center field, which is manned by a separate staff and often features replays of the action on the field.
"As far as all the sponsorships, advertisements, crowd prompts, everything like that — that's me," said Haukap. "It's kind of cool for me because I actually have to watch the game and know what's going on. I'm always involved in the game, which is a lot of fun. I actually do all the birthdays and welcomes as well, so I'm constantly getting text messages throughout the game. I always know when all my friends are at the stadium because they text me wanting their name up on the video boards. As far as they're concerned, that's the only thing I do."
So how in the world did this lifelong Cardinals fan swing such an amazing gig?
"I got lucky," admitted Haukap. "I was living in Champaign, working up there. My cousin, who I actually lived with for three years at Eastern Illinois, got a job with the Cardinals a year before, doing their graphic design work. He found out about the job opening."
Haukap worked for WEIU-TV as a student and specifically requested sports work after a year of doing almost any behind-the-scenes work you can imagine on the news side.
"They put me on full-time with the sports, and I started producing, editing, writing, going out in the field, reporting, and even got to anchor a few shows," remembers Haukap. "It all kind of blew up from there. That's where I learned Avid, the editing system I work on here at Busch Stadium."
Little did Haukap know that his experience at Eastern would lead him to hustling for an interview in St. Louis. By the end of their first meeting, his soon-to-be boss was asking when he could start. After some training — and a lot of learning on the fly — he was running the Daktronics equipment at Busch.
"I didn't know anything about (Daktronics) when I started here," said Haukap. "I was hired on as a production guy, and they said they'd teach me Daktronics and how to run the video boards. A lot of it was just trial and error. I just sat here and messed with stuff to learn it.
"Now I'd say I'm pretty good at it."
Good indeed! This job acted as a springboard for similar positions during other sports seasons in St. Louis. Haukap also works for the St. Louis Rams pro football team, running the video board at Edward Jones Dome. From there, he also secured similar work at Chaifetz Arena, home of the St. Louis Billikens men's and women's basketball teams.
Other perks of the job include meeting the players — through production of various in-house commercials and public service announcements, Haukap figures he's met every member of the current Cardinals squad — and of course being in the stadium to see his favorite team play every night.
"It's like having season tickets," said Haukap, who has missed just one game in his three seasons — and that was to be in a wedding. Of course, those "season tickets" also come with an eyewitness account to some memorable events.
"The moment that probably stands out in my mind more than others would be the obvious one: Game Six of the World Series last year," Haukap said. "It was just unbelievable. We were losing, and we'd come back. We were losing, and we'd come back. Then David Freese hit that triple off the wall and the place was just rocking.
"It was going crazy upstairs; I think my boss actually jumped on my back and was riding me around the control room. Everybody was going nuts. We knew we had to win Game Seven, and in only my second year working with the Cardinals, I got to experience a World Series championship. It's pretty special."
By now, it probably goes without saying that Haukap is thrilled with where he is professionally.
"This is definitely a dream job," confirms Haukap. "I couldn't have dreamt it up any better. I always tell people the only job I'd like instead of this would be to actually be down on the field playing baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. This is second best, though."