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From the home turf to Halas Hall with the Chicago Bears

One turf science graduate's journey to caring for the Training Facility of one of America’s first chartered NFL franchised teams "The Chicago Bears Football Club."

Wide receivers, tight ends, and linebackers drenched in sweat grab a water bottle, head off the field, and step onto the team golf cart to head back indoors after finishing a long practice in Lake Forest, Illinois. As they depart, only divots to the turf remain, signs of a good practice. It's now time for Ben Baumer, one of four assistant groundskeepers, to get to work doing his part for the team.

As a lifelong sports fan and athlete, being a part of a team has always been a passion. But being a part of THIS team is a dream come true. This is Halas Hall, home of the Chicago Bears training facility & headquarters, where Baumer gets to work every day. This is the team that he says, “Purdue helped him make."

An athlete with a love for the outdoors

"I was always the kid outside, whether playing on a field or working in a field. I just always loved being around sports and being part of a team."

Looking back, Baumer sees the path that led him to where he is today. "I grew up going to work with my dad, who is the superintendent of parks & recreation in Batesville, Indiana, mowing yards for my uncle's lawn company, and working for a local landscape company throughout my high school years.  From a young age, I cared for all kinds of athletic fields and outdoor spaces and always enjoyed it. I have actually never once worked a job where it is based inside."

Baumer calls himself a sports fanatic, but he knew that his playing days would end after high school. So he began exploring other ways to stay on the field as part of a team. He says it was during his junior year of high school that his dad connected the dots for him. "I remember my dad going to a Field Day sponsored by a turf, landscape, and irrigation supplier. It was at Victory Field, home of the Indianapolis Indians the Triple A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he got to shadow the grounds crew for a day. He came home later that evening and told me he thought it could be a great career fit for me."

Baumer made a connection with the Indians, which landed him a spot on their grounds crew. "My experience with the Indians solidified my decision that this is what I wanted to do for a career. I enjoyed it so much that I would work my regular landscaping job for Creative Landscapes Inc in Batesville, then drive to Indianapolis to work a game on the crew for the Indians. After the game ended and we finished our post-game duties, I drove back home, often returning in Batesville at 1 or 2 a.m., only to do the same thing all over again the next day.”

That summer with the Indians led Baumer to decide to study turf science and to pursue a career in it. He did a year of completing prerequisites at IUPUI while working for the Indians, and then transferred into the turf management and science program in the department of horticulture and landscape architecture his sophomore year.

"My turf science professors made the program great. We were a small, close-knit group, and had the chance to learn the science presented in the classroom while experiencing great hands-on learning opportunities," Baumer said. At Purdue, he put what he learned in the classroom into practice through a student job with the Purdue University Athletic Department.

From Ross-Ade to the NFL

"At Purdue, I helped care for the athletic facilities, including Ross-Ade Stadium. Years later, I use what I learned in the classroom and on the fields at Purdue every day in the NFL."

Entering the sports world at Purdue felt like Baumer's second step into the sports industry. "Many of the things I did at Purdue I still use today. At Ross-Ade, I cared for their turf, which is Bermudagrass. That was the most northern Bermudagrass in the country at the time, but now we have it here at Halas Hall. The use of this grass in cold climates is in part due to research by Cale Bigelow, one of my professors at Purdue. All these years later, I get to care for the grass that Purdue science and faculty were part of making possible."

His experiences expanded as he landed an internship with the Washington Nationals during his senior year. After graduation, Baumer headed to the Brownsburg Community School Corporation to manage their athletic facilities. He was there a year and a half when he saw a job posting with the Chicago Cubs.

"I always wanted to work full time in professional sports, so when I saw that position open, I knew I had to throw my name in the hat. One thing led to another, and that job brought me to Chicago in March of 2015. I credit Purdue, and my Purdue connections, in helping me get to that point in my career so quickly."

Baumer fell in love with the Windy City and the hustle and bustle of the city life. He remained with the Chicago Cubs for three and a half years before stints at Northwestern University and then back to Washington, D.C. to work for the Washington Redskins. In March of 2020, he landed a position with the Chicago Bears grounds crew, bringing him back to the city he loves.

A "team" player

"I'm proud to be a part of this team every day. These are world renowned athletes, and they're playing on a surface that I help maintain. Our biggest job is to keep it safe so they don't get injured and, in turn, to help them have the best performances they can."

Baumer surveys the fields after practice and knows what needs to happen to prepare for the players return tomorrow. He loads his equipment and sets out to prepare the safest field for his team, which is just a part of the larger goal for the Chicago Bears.

With that one team goal in mind, he starts his mower to do his part. "Everyone is striving for the same thing here, and that is to be the best. We are all working together to bring a Super Bowl to Chicago, and I am honored to play a small part. I'm thankful for the turf science program at Purdue for helping me get here and be a part of this team."

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