His is a long and winding road of rugby clubs from across the United States and the World. Chris Baumann (@Prop3baumann) is the epitome of the American rugger and a success story every club player who dreams of professional rugby and a chance to wear the Eagle crest can look to.
Chris Baumann is among the senior Eagles during the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) and its likely much will be expected from the 6’2″ 275lbs prop in terms of leadership. His vast experience will no doubt be put to use as the Eagles look to claim their first ARC crown.
He took time away from his busy schedule and demanding training regimen to talk his travels, club professionalism, D1 commitment, and “a badass trophy” worth fighting for as he answered a few questions for Rugby Nation USA.
Rugby Nation USA (RN): Thank you very much for your time, Chirs, I know you’re busy.
Chris Baumann (CB): Camp has been busier then I thought and I haven’t had much free time.
RN: I understand, I truly appreciate it. So, how did you get involved playing rugby?
CB: I just turned up to a practice at the University of Wyoming. All it really takes to get started in rugby is to just show up to your local clubs practice and keep showing up.
RN: Who have been some of your biggest influences?
RN: How did you end up on the Eagles radar, what was your pathway?
CB: My hometown of Steamboat Springs plays in its own Mountain League Competition in Colorado during the summers. It led to me playing for Aspen in the D1 competition. There was no pathway for me. I didn’t know about under 20’s or All Americans. But I learned it doesn’t really matter. If you are good enough, and playing in a few comps, then you should get noticed enough to get invited into a wider training group camp.
RN: You’ve played with quite a few clubs, any particular reason for the moves; experience, opportunity?
CB: Yea, my jobs outside of rugby and living conditions have never really made me want to hang around after the rugby season finished. My hometown rugby always brought me back in the summers.
RN: Colorado, Wyoming, California, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, and New York; coast to coast, rugby hotbeds to up and coming rugby States, any commonalities you’ve found?
CB: On the coasts, it’s tough for clubs to find proper fields. In the middle states there is plenty of good pitches but not as much good competition.
RN: I see you played for Tempe, was that the Old Devils?
CB: I played for them for a few matches. Unfortunately two of my teeth got knocked out one match, and I decided to take some time off rugby. I was in my younger 20’s and the dentist bill was massive.
RN: Rugby in Arizona is growing, how was the atmosphere when you played there?
CB: The same as most anywhere else in America. About 20-30 fans drinking beer around some park field.
RN: What was the rugby culture and environment like at U of Wyoming?
CB: It was a solid culture at Wyoming. I got hooked on rugby when a group of teammates went to the Valentine’s Day massacre rugby tournament in Breckenridge Colorado during the season. It was a rugby tournament on snow with a lot of kegs. It wasn’t a sanctioned event by the club or anything, but it was fun and made me want to tour and get better at rugby.
RN: What surprised you the most about your time playing in Arizona and Wyoming?
CB: At Wyoming I remember being surprised that I showed up to my first ever practice on a Tuesday, and was starting in a match on the Saturday. I had no idea what I was doing, and they just threw me in at flanker. At Arizona I just remember how easy the winter was compared to Colorado and Wyoming.
RN: Are there any clear differences from club to club, state to state?
CB: Yea, I live for rugby tours, and tournaments. There are some great rugby tournaments every year in America that I believe are worth touring to. It’d be great to get some overseas touring sides to attend. If I had to rank the top three it’d be:
If you can make any of these, you won’t be disappointed.
RN: How did your signing with Wellington come about?
CB: It was for injury cover, and I was recommended by the Eagles coaching staff. It happened really fast right after I finished the PRO competition. Luckily it happened fast, and I got clearance from both unions right away. PRO then stopped paying me after I already completed all my obligations to them. But at least I wasn’t caught up in red tape like other PRO players whom got opportunities, and ended up not getting paid anyways.
RN: Is there anything in the US that can match the level of play in the Mitre 10?
CB: Unfortunately no. We don’t have anything that is close to level of Mitre 10.
RN: Australia, Japan, New Zealand; what have you been able to bring to the Eagles from those experiences?
CB: It’s just good to keep moving, and keep gaining experience. My goal early on was to keep trying to get into the best rugby form, so I get selected to play for the Eagles.
RN: What does US rugby have in common with those other nations?
CB: Clubs that want to grow the game. USA rugby is its own beast. We have our own unique issues. The clubs are trying. Having a club owned field and clubhouse is a dream that I see most clubs have. Funding is the biggest issue at most clubs. Clubs can’t rely on alumni and player dues to get ahead. We need to steal our piece of the American sports market, and get broadcast deals like the other big sports.
RN: In that regard, what are the major differences in terms of rugby?
CB: Those unions have their own professional domestic competitions. We don’t have any consistent leagues that pay well enough to not have another job.
RN: If you could change something about rugby in the US what would it be?
CB: To have a solid, consistent, well paying pro league. Last years Pro league was a stitch up. I don’t see anything happening now for a few years, and by the time it does I will be pretty old. I’d like every club to just buy into the D1 competition and try and make it a professional well funded competition with the brands that have been around for the last 50 years. If the clubs want to have competitions around the D1 structure to get extra matches that’s great. But the D1 competition needs to be stated as the tournament to crown the best team in America every year. It should also have a badass trophy that every club fights for.
RN: What has your eclectic experience given you that you bring to the Eagles and US Club rugby?
CB: I try and bring a good attitude, and gratitude every time I have the opportunity to tour with the Eagles. It comes from seeing how all the clubs around America want the Eagles to win, and how hard it was personally for me to get to this point.
RN: Any tips on the dark arts for aspiring young props?
CB: Buy a professional mouth guard from the dentist, and quality comfortable rugby boots with the longest sprigs possible. Then buy a backpack and hit the road and find a rugby club overseas to play for.
RN: You’re currently preparing for the ARC, tell us a bit about your preparation.
CB: I was just in my hometown in Colorado for two months. I needed a bit of an off season. I just worked on getting my body feeling good again.
RN: Can you explain the day in the life of an Eagle in training?
CB: It varies day to day quite a bit. When I’m on tour everything is already planned by management. When I’m on my own, I’m just winging it, cruising around in my RV living life.
RN: Is there a player out there, anywhere along your winding path, that should be in the Eagles radar but isn’t?
CB: Martin Knoetze
RN: Best player you’ve ever played with?
CB: Chris Wyles
RN: Best US-eligible you’ve ever played with?
CB: Same as above.
RN: What’s next, after the ARC?
CB: No solid plans. I’m thinking of a few rugby tours I could go on though. I might get my RV which is stored in Arizona at the moment and drive back to Austin Texas. I’d like to play for the Austin Blacks Rugby Club again.
RN: Finally Chris, of all the Eagles, who do you not want to be stuck in a hot car with traveling cross country?
CB: Thretton Palamo.
Thank you very much for your time during the ARC and good luck during the tournament and beyond.
Upcoming RN USA Profiles:
Feb 14: Pat Abernathey- Boulder Rugby
Feb 21: Brian Lemme- HC WVU Women’s Rugby
Feb 28: Ted Hardy- Clayton Bootleggers