Bridgman walks on to starting spot for Wolf Pack baseball

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Updated: 5/20/2014 11:57 pm
RENO, Nev. ( & KRNV) -- A walk-up song is more than music blasting through the loud speakers at the yard. It is a chance for baseball players to get into the right mindset. It is the time for them to transfer their nerves into positive energy at the plate.

You can find Damonte Ranch High graduate Justin Bridgman playing at Peccole Park, setting the bar high even at a young age. The Wolf Pack freshman uses Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith. It is a song written by Steven Tyler, representing a statement about doing your own thing without letting the outside world bring you down.

Justin has mastered that notion better than meets the eye. "This is what I've always wanted to do. I've always wanted to set my sights on playing college ball, playing here in Reno with my family and everything has been great."

But getting here has not been an easy road. What you may not know is that Justin is a walk-on. He is the kid that was ignored during the recruiting process. He did not receive a single Division I scholarship.

"It's a legitimate walk-on," said Wolf Pack Head Coach Jay Johnson. "Almost like 'Rudy', the movie Rudy-type story, except he has a lot more ability than the original Rudy did, I think."

"Justin walked into my office and goes, 'So Coach, everybody's gonna get a fair chance, right?' And I said, 'yes.' When he walked out I was thinking, 'who is this kid?" remembers Johnson.

"I kinda just wanted the opportunity, because I didn't have many options," said Bridgman. "I knew that I could play well enough to at least make the team and earn a spot if I got the chance, and I was fortunate enough to get that chance."

"Every day he was out there, it just became more apparent that this guy not only has a chance to make the team, but really, really help us," gushed Johnson. "He's done that and I'm excited to have him around here for a long time."

Bridgman has exceeded any expectations that Johnson placed on him. He not only worked his way onto the roster, he locked a starting spot at second base. "The bond and the brotherhood that I think these guys are starting to form is pretty special," said Johnson. "He really adds to that with how hard he plays and what type of team guy he is. You know he's a lot of what I want the heartbeat of this thing to look like going forward."

Not only has Bridgman been the underdog on the field, he has also had to go through trials off the field in his personal life.

"I didn't think it was true. You don't really think that could ever happen, and you were kinda stunned. Until I actually saw it, I didn't know."

In January 2012, the Washoe Drive Fire surged through south Reno, causing numerous evacuations and charred more than 3,000 acres before being contained. The fire destroyed 29 homes in the process, including Bridgman's.

"It was tough at the beginning. It also just brought everyone together. So many people coming out and supporting, I'm so thankful for that. It was really humbling."

If losing his house wasn't hard enough, he was faced with another challenge. Something much bigger, more monumental and irreplaceable.

His dad's cancer came back with a vengeance. "We thought it had been taken out, and then last fall, it came back and it was pretty devastating and it was really sad. I didn't really know how serious it really was until recently."

His strength stems from his dad, his family, his team. His Wolf Pack teammates have really helped him along the way to keep pushing. "We've all been there for him," said Wolf Pack Junior Austin Byler. "We've all expressed our feelings to him, put our arm around him. Just let him know that we're all there for him, no matter what happens and no matter how bad the situation gets."

"It's incredible, they've been there for me the whole time," said Bridgman. "I couldn't have asked for a better team."

In the meantime, he will continue to step into the batter's box not knowing what pitch is coming at him. But he will continue to adapt, continue to prove the naysayers wrong and continue to leave his mark at Nevada.

Joseph Fred Bridgman Jr.

June 19, 1951-April 19 2014

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