GARY | The Purdue Boilermakers will play 92 miles from West Lafayette today when they “host” Valparaiso, just 26 miles away, in the NCAA Regional baseball game at U.S. Steel Yard.
For four local Boilers, the Steel Yard is closer to home than any other place.
“This is the closest I’ve ever been to home playing,” Boilermaker senior Ryan Bridges said.
The first baseman and designated hitter graduated from Griffith High School in 2007. He first played at U.S. Steel Yard in 2003, the second year the stadium was open.
“It was a long time ago,” said Bridges, who played a game at U.S. Steel Yard each of his four years at Griffith. “It was pretty exciting as a high school kid to get to play here.”
Blake Mascarello, a senior pitcher for the Boilers, played four years at the home of the Railcats also.
“Just being close to home and back in a familiar setting, it feels good to have a little home cooking,” Mascarello said. “It’s nice to be here.”
Mascarello never pitched at the Steel Yard in high school, he only batted, but he still is able to help his team with strategy at the ball park thanks to his prior experiences.
“The one thing that I can remember from high school is the ball does not carry very well here,” Mascarello said. “A little bit of small ball is probably going to be used throughout the weekend with all the teams.”
Bridges remembers getting a few hits during his days at the Steel Yard, but not the specifics of how the park plays.
“I don’t remember stuff from two weeks ago,” Bridges said. “Stuff from a couple of years ago is kind of a blur. I do remember getting a few hits, but I don’t remember how it played, how the ball came out of the pitcher. It’ll all come back.”
After winning the Big Ten and making just its second appearance in the NCAA Championships, Purdue was rewarded with a No. 1 seed, giving it the opportunity to host, but stadium requirements forced them north to Gary.
Even though hosting means being right in opponent Valparaiso’s back yard, the Boilers are still excited about it.
“It’s an honor to be chosen as a regional host like this,” Mascarello said. “No matter where it was going to be, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it feels good to be counted as a host and be the No. 1 seed here.”
As far as attendance is concerned, neither Mascarello nor Bridges is worried about Purdue fans making their way to Northwest Indiana.
“Yes they are closer,” Bridges said about Valparaiso, “but I feel like we’ll have a very big fan base with our local players and just with the traveling. West Lafayette isn’t too far, so I expect our fans to come and hopefully outnumber theirs with us being the host.”
And both Mascarello's and Bridges' families will help contribute to that Purdue crowd, as the players try to fulfill the biggest ticket requests of their lives.
“A lot of people are asking for tickets,” Mascarello said. “But you can’t get that many.”