Ask Ryan Bridges how many tickets he's hoping to scrounge up for Friday's NCAA Regional baseball game, and a big enough number can't be found.
"That might be a low number," said Bridges, a Griffith grad and Purdue utility player.
Bridges has played first base and as the designated hitter during the Big Ten Championship. After suffering an injury in the middle of last season, his long road to recovery has found him back in the lineup as the Boilermakers play against Valparaiso in Friday's opening round of the NCAA Regional at U.S. Steel Yard.
Bridges had a successful season to open 2011, batting .313 with nine doubles and a pair of homers through the first half of the season. Then he dislocated his ankle, broke his fibula and tore the ligaments in the area during a game against Michigan midway through the season.
His ankle swelled so much it's still bigger than it was 18 months ago.
"It was a complex surgery," Bridges said. "The doctor who performed it, he also works with the Colts. He said he's seen this in football, but maybe seen one baseball injury like that."
Bridges worked through rehab and felt ready to go when the season started, but his body didn't necessarily agree. He continued to feel the discomfort in his ankle.
"I started off a little slow and I didn't want that at all," Bridges said. "I hadn't really played in a year, year and a half, but now I'm starting to hit my stride and get back to where I want to be. I'm starting to hit the ball real well, and I'm getting more comfortable in the game."
Bridges is the epitome of what Purdue baseball has been the last couple years, coach Doug Schreiber said.
"Ryan's one of many players who's had a lot of adversity. He's been indicative of the team," Schreiber said. "When the season started, he was our first baseman — we always regarded him as our best defensive first baseman — but he got off to a slow start and it opened the door for others. He's such a team guy. He's got such a great attitude. He worked hard, stayed with it, and the opportunities came back. He's one of the hottest hitters we have right now on the team."
Bridges is a .302 hitter this year and hit .341 on the road.
He played at U.S. Steel Yard during night games against Whiting when he was in high school, so comes as close as he can to calling the stadium home.
He's still looking for those extra couple of tickets for this weekend's regional.
"Hopefully we do get a big crowd from West Lafayette," Bridges said. "There's no shortage of fans, I'm sure, with all the guys on the team from the area."