In paradise Looking out over Pacific, Wittman finds life with Sockers can be a blast, too

November 14, 1991|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Evening Sun Staff

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- The elderly woman in the elevator at 939 Coast Road looks closely at the young man and says, "You look like you lift weights. That's good. It's good for you and you look very nice."

He thanks the woman for the compliment and then giggles once she departs.

Life's a ball, and Tim Wittman knows it. The former Blast All-Star, now with the San Diego Sockers, lives in the tallest high-rise in downtown La Jolla, surrounded by the well-heeled retired and the Pacific Ocean. And he's loving every minute of it.

"I think, besides myself, the youngest person in this building is 65," he says, pulling open the drapes of his rented studio apartment and looking out over the water and the seals sunning on a large rock in the cove. "But I've always loved La Jolla and I can't believe how lucky I am to have found this place."

It's a little disconcerting, finding Wittman living in this upscale resort community. It's a long way from Highlandtown.

He laughs. The irony does not escape him.

"When I was trying to rent this place, I kept my tattoo covered," he says of the panther on his upper right arm. "I try to keep a low profile. Sometimes I come in the back door. I look like a workman. It's funny, no one looks anything like me and yet there is this one doorman who refuses to remember me. It's crazy.

"I feel like I'm on an extended vacation," he says, now leading the way along Shell Beach, toward Prospect, La Jolla's main thoroughfare. Along the way, he stops to show off his new car.

"I've always wanted one of these," says the man who drove a Corvette in Baltimore. "It's a 1964 Plymouth Fury and it came complete with fuzzy dice. Look at this trunk, it's bigger than my apartment."

Baltimore, where Wittman and his San Diego Sockers will play Saturday at 7:35 p.m., seems very distant.

Only last summer, Wittman and the Blast parted acrimoniously. Wittman, who joined the team 10 years ago straight out of Calvert Hall, blamed incompatibility with ownership. And that incompatibility has extended into this season: Wittman has filed a grievance for $6,250 in injury pay.

When the Blast let Wittman go, team officials said they needed more durable players as they tried to reorganize after a losing season. Wittman, who suffered a knee injury near the end of last season, was no longer in their plans.

Wittman says he feels comfortable with his new team. He admits it is completely different from being with the Blast. The Sockers are less "uptight" -- no suits and ties when traveling on the road.

"When you've been a Blast and had our history against the Sockers, you wonder what makes them tick," Wittman says, referring to San Diego's four Major Soccer League championships over the Blast. "Why are they so successful? Right now, I think it's really too early for me to tell.

"But there are differences. Here it is more relaxed with less discipline, but when discipline is needed it's there.

"Everyone creates his own style on the field. No one is molded into a specific form, but [Sockers coach Ron] Newman guides us. It's weird. We've each got a different style, but it all blends together on the field."

Wittman noticed another difference in the first two weeks of the season, after San Diego lost its first two games.

"When we were 0-2, Newman was laughing," says Wittman. "The fans were saying they were glad we were 0-2, because they'd won championships with 0-2 starts. I'm watching how things work all the time and sometimes it's just quite funny."

Newman, who has watched Wittman play all those years for the Blast, says the 28-year-old has fit in smoothly.

"He switches with Quinny [midfielder Brian Quinn] and gives us a little different dimension," Newman says. "Quinny plays further back and sets everything up, while Timmy is quick to get into the box and quick to get to the other end. He looks comfortable and I like using him at midfield to create things. I like that he's willing to take people on and then uses his quickness to get past people."

Newman hasn't asked Wittman a lot of questions about his parting with the Blast. "I think it was a personal thing," Newman says. "My only thought is that it is great for us and that sometimes a move like that is good for everyone involved."

Saturday, he will play his first game in Baltimore since leaving. He says he wants to think about playing the Blast like he thinks about playing any other team. Just one more game on the 40-game schedule. He'd like to think of it that way, but Wittman more than hints that there is a little more to it than that.

"I want to beat the Blast, just like I want to beat every other team we play," he says. "But I do want to go out and bust my tail and show Ed [Blast owner Ed Hale] this is what I do. I'm going to show them that. As far as the players go, I'd like to see them do well. But as far as management goes, I hope they're dead last."

Wittman looks across the cove, toward Tory Pines and the cliffs beyond. He says living here is totally different from Baltimore, where he has life-long friends who stop and chat when they see him on the street. "I love Baltimore, you know," he says. But as he looks at those cliffs he makes it clear the California lifestyle is agreeing with him.

"Before I leave here I want to learn to surf, hang glide and get a job at Sea World feeding the seals," he says. "I want to play well and win a championship and enjoy myself."

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