After 10 seasons for his hometown Baltimore Blast, Tim Wittman has gone 3,000 miles away, to the nine-time champion San Diego Sockers.
Tonight at 9:05 at the San Diego Sports Arena, Wittman will play against the Blast for the first time.
Baltimore (1-3) needs a win tonight to climb out of last place in the MSL after losing to the Tacoma Stars, 5-4, Friday night at the Tacoma Dome.
Gary Heale's goal off a cross from Ralph Black on a free kick with 27 seconds left in the game gave the Stars the victory. It was the seventh loss for the Blast in the past eight games at the Tacoma Dome and the team's 15th loss in 16 road games since Jan. 4.
Now the Blast is in for what shapes up as an emotional meeting with Wittman and the Sockers (1-2).
Wittman said several times last summer that he never wanted to leave Baltimore. But he said it was impossible for him and owner Ed Hale to patch up their differences.
Wittman now lives in La Jolla, Calif., a long way from Herring Run Park and places such as Little Italy, where Wittman used to ride his motor scooter and mingle with longtime friends.
But Wittman is trying to adjust and find a soccer life after the Blast, the team he joined at 18 out of Calvert Hall. Most Blast fans and most likely Wittman assumed he never would play for another Major Soccer League team. It was just a little more than two years ago that Blast coach Kenny Cooper said Wittman "could be the next coach of the Blast."
Those were the good times for Wittman, who, 10 months later, was named to the Blast All-Decade team by the fans.
That was before two bitter contract negotiations and a run-in with Hale at a team meeting last March. After the Blast decided not to re-sign him, Wittman moved on to another MSL city. But San Diego does have its advantages.
"I love it there, because I can look out the window of my studio apartment and see the Pacific," Wittman said.
On the floor with the Sockers, Wittman still is adjusting to a new coach and an entirely different approach to the game.
"[Sockers coach] Ron Newman has a West Coast attitude, and Kenny Cooper has an East Coast attitude," said Wittman. "It's going to be interesting to play under Ron. He's won it nine times [seven MSL titles and two NASL indoor championships]. You have to watch someone like that and see how they do it."
And what about the Blast? Wittman said he sees no confrontations with Blast players tonight.
"I'm going to go out and play to win like I do every game," said Wittman. "I want to beat the Blast, but I like a lot of their players and hope they do well this season."
Cooper said: "I will never forget what Tim has meant to the Baltimore franchise. I know he's going to score goals against us, because he always has scored goals. The perfect scenario would be for Timmy to score three goals and we score four."
Wittman is especially close to Blast defender Mark Mettrick and Baltimore trainer Marty McGinty. The three men planned to go out to dinner last night.
Mettrick said: "It's going to be weird seeing Timmy in a San Diego uniform. The shock won't sit in until it actually happens."
NOTES: Cooper said of Wittman: "I will never forget what Tim has meant to the Baltimore franchise. I know he's going to score goals against us because he always has scored goals. The perfect scenario would be for Timmy to score three goals and we score four."
Mettrick said: "It's going to be weird seeing Timmy in a San Diego uniform. The shock won't sit in until it actually happens." . . . Baltimore's Waad Hirmez and Rod Castro will be playing against San Diego for the first time since coming to Baltimore. Hirmez, who was upset when Newman didn't offer him more money to sign last summer, said: "I won't try to pick any fights or arguments, but I know Ron Newman will use his ways to try and antagonize me. He'll say certain things to me. He will want anybody but me and Rod to score goals for the Blast." Castro said: "I left on good terms with San Diego, so there won't be any revenge on my mind. Waad is different. He left on bad terms and wants revenge."