For 10 years, Tim Wittman has lived an American youngster's dream -- he has played a professional sport for his hometown team.
Wittman not only came right out of high school (Calvert Hall) to play for the Baltimore Blast, but he also has been a star in a league in which American players sometimes find it tough to break in.
Wittman, 27, has played in three Major Soccer League All-Star games, was named last season to the Baltimore Blast All-Decade Team, holds two MSL records for short-handed goals (most in a season, seven; and two quickest, 15 seconds), has played in more games (364) than any other player in the 11-year history of the Blast and needs only 26 points to surpass Stan "The Magician" Stamenkovic as the team's all-time leading scorer.
Wittman has helped turn Baltimore on to indoor soccer by all-out hustle every game, throwing his body around in an effort to win and an innate ability to score no matter the situation.
But the dream has faded.
Wittman is facing knee surgery for the fourth time in his career. He has been through two bitter contract negotiations the past two summers. He had his team captaincy taken away last season after a run-in with referee Herb Silva. And he has clashed with coach Kenny Cooper in recent years over Wittman's desire to train by lifting weights.
It has added up to tension between Wittman and the Blast.
Wittman is talking about retiring if ligament damage is found in his left knee tomorrow night, when Dr. Joseph Ciotola performs arthroscopic surgery.
John Mangione, who grew up in the same neighborhood as Wittman and played soccer for the University of Delaware, said: "It would be terrible for Timmy not to play for the Blast. I can't think of the Baltimore Blast without Tim Wittman. People are finding it unbelievable that Tim is talking of retiring at the age of 27."
Wittman said he wants to coach young players in the MSL when he retires and would like to be part of the Blast organization.
That desire gives the Blast an opportunity to end any ill feelings between Wittman and the team. Owner Ed Hale could sign Wittman to a contract this summer that would guarantee his presence with the team in some capacity for several years.
One positive note for the Blast is the increasing home attendance.
Baltimore's average is up to 7,034 a game, third in the MSL.
The Blast, with five home games left, is threatening to overtake first-place San Diego (7,102) and second-place St. Louis (7,078).
The rest of the league attendance averages are: Dallas, 6,897; Kansas City, 6,773); Wichita, 6,426; Tacoma, 5,348; and Cleveland, 4,252.