The message on the answering machine made former Blast All-Star Tim Wittman laugh. He didn't believe San Diego coach Ron Newman would be the first person to call him after his departure from the Blast.
"The voice said it was Ron Newman and asked me to call back," recalled Wittman. "I thought it was a joke. I thought it was one of my brothers or a friend playing a joke. I listened to that message three times and then I called the San Diego number and got Ron."
That's when it really got funny.
"I said, 'Ron, this is Tim Wittman,' and all he said was, 'Yes.' And I said, 'Did you call?' And he said, 'No.' And I got embarrassed. And then he laughed and said he had and we went on from there."
Today, Wittman, who parted from the Blast with acrimony after ** 10 years this summer, is the newest member of the Blast's most tenacious rival, the San Diego Sockers.
"If I can't play here, then the place I'd obviously want to be is San Diego," said Wittman. "They've won nine championships. I know because I've played them every time and lost."
Wittman said he would have rather beaten the Sockers than joined them, but added, "This is my team now and what I gave to the Blast, I'm going to give to San Diego. They're judging me on how I perform and nothing else."
When the Blast announced it wouldn't attempt to work out an agreement with Wittman for the coming season, Wittman blamed a personality conflict between himself and Blast owner Ed Hale.
The Blast contended its decision was based on Wittman's lack of durability after having played only 33 games last season.
The saga, however, is not yet over. Wittman, who did not play in the last two games of the season and who underwent knee surgery, said the Blast owes him three months of "injury protection" money, about $7,500, covering the three months from the end of his contract to the time he is to receive medical clearance, Sept. 15.
"They've denied my claim, saying I wasn't injured at the end of the season," said Wittman. "Now it has to go to arbitration. It's crazy, but I'm used to it."
It is just one more wedge between the former Calvert Hall player and the pro team he never wanted to leave.
"I'm going to give everything I have to help San Diego beat whomever we're playing," said Wittman. "But I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't take added satisfaction in beating the Blast and sticking it to some people in that organization."
Hale had no comment on the signing. But coach Kenny Cooper said he is pleased for Wittman.
"It is good for Timmy and great for our rivalry," Cooper said. "Tim is a competitor and this is a new beginning for him. I think he'll help them and I think he'll help us by putting people in the stands when San Diego comes to play here. Fans will probably paint one side of their faces blue [for San Diego] and the other side red [for the Blast]. I think it's going to be exciting."
Wittman will play his first game against the Blast in San Diego, Sunday, Nov. 10, followed by a game here Nov. 16.
Wittman, sources said, signed for less than the $45,000 he made last season. But money was not the issue.
"There were some little, silly things I needed to make the deal," Wittman said. "I don't really want to go into them, because they are silly."
One of them, however, was the right to lift weights and renew his interest in the martial arts. Another was moving expenses. The Sockers agreed to both.
"I did ask Ron if I could lift," Wittman said. "They have a line in their contract that says players can't take part in any other physical activities. Kenny didn't want me lifting or renewing my martial arts. Here [with the Blast] they tried to mold you. If you fit in, great. If you didn't, it wasn't great. But I knew Ron Newman had always let his players express themselves."
In addition to Wittman, San Diego also improved its chances of repeating with the announcement that premier defender Kevin Crow will put off retirement and return for another season.
Crow, the only MSL player to win three "Defender of the Year" awards, was the defensive glue last season. This year, he will play a similar role, as San Diego tries to overcome the loss of midfielders Brian Quinn, who is joining the U.S. National team, and Branko Segota, who will probably be declared a free agent and join St. Louis.
In San Diego, Wittman's signing was greeted with nothing but accolades.
"Getting Wittman and re-signing Kevin helps to solidify a backbone to our organization," said Sockers vice president Randy Bernstein.
"It's going to be a pleasure to have him," said Newman from his home in England. "He's always been a thorn in our side in our battles against the Blast, and I'm sure he'll fit right into our system. Tim has shown the doubters Americans can definitely play this game."
San Diego owner Oscar Ancira Jr. said he spoke to Wittman and is pleased the 28-year-old is coming to the West Coast.
"If Ron says he is a good player, he is a good player," said Ancira. "He is excited about coming and I am happy to sign players who are happy about coming here to play."