Chicago Cubs fans probably won’t think twice about the appearance of the playing surface at historic Wrigley Field, built in 1914, when the 2011 baseball season opens.
But converting the baseball field back to its normal state actually was quite an undertaking for Steve Bush, a Rock Island County Farm Bureau board member, and his company, Bush Sports Turf of Milan.
Wrigley Field in November was transformed into a football stadium for the first time since December 1970 — when the Chicago Bears last played there — to host the 104th football game between the University of Illinois and Northwestern University (the two teams prior to Nov. 20 hadn’t played at Wrigley since Oct. 27, 1923).
When the most recent game ended, a 48-27 victory for the Illini, Bush and his company went to work.
“We started the Monday of Thanksgiving week, and it took less than two weeks (to complete the baseball field) even though we had snow, ice, and all kinds of weather to contend with,” Bush said.
Bush Sports Turf specializes in rebuilding sports fields to exact specifications. The company previously had installed sports fields at numerous colleges, minor league baseball stadiums, and two years ago renovated the field at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles for the World Baseball Classic.
“We have the most sophisticated technology (including global positioning systems and lasers) in the industry,” said Bush, who also puts his U of I degree in agronomy to work in the turf industry.
“We mapped the field and did a lot of soil analysis at Wrigley (which led to the addition of a clay material when the new sod was installed),” he noted. “The field should play better next season.”
Bush farms with his wife, Julie, but the turf company has grown to about 80 percent of his business. He entered the turf business when he bought a grass seeder and started doing small, residential jobs.
“I was just looking for an alternative way to supplement my income,” Bush said. “In college, I had no idea this occupation even existed.”
Bush’s big break came when his company was selected to install sod for the TPC Deere Run golf course in Silvis, which is the site of the John Deere Classic PGA tour event.
The turf industry also turned out to be a great way for Freeman Seed Co. of Woodson in Morgan County to expand its business.
“Our family has grown certified seed since the 1940s,” said Jon Freeman, owner and operator of Freeman Seed Co. and president of the Cass-Morgan Farm Bureau. “In the early 1980s, we put in a conditioning plant and started selling grass seed.”
Freeman Seed Co. sells a full line of pasture seed, seed mixes for Conservation Reserve Program ground, and native grasses in addition to corn, soybean, and wheat seed. The grass seed business has grown to represent about 30 percent of the operation.
The turf grass seed mostly is grown out of state, but Freeman sells all of the seed in its Illinois territory.
“It’s another service we have along with corn, beans, and wheat,” he added. “It works out pretty well.”
The seed industry also provided an opportunity for Freeman’s son, Jacob, to return to the family farm/business.