Billy Ronson, the feisty little bad boy of the Baltimore Blast, has turned over a new leaf.
He is no longer blatantly kicking or grousing with teammates.
Instead, it appears that Ronson, 12 days short of his 35th birthday, is mellowing a bit and trying to avoid controversy that has followed him throughout his career.
In fact, Blast coach Kenny Cooper said yesterday that Ronson "is learning to become the consummate company man. He's learning to say and do the right things."
Ronson is moving so close to the company line that he has been asked to be a director of the team's summer camps.
"I just do my job and get on with it," said Ronson, who will try to help the Blast reach .500 tonight against the Dallas Sidekicks at the Baltimore Arena at 8:05. "The players can't be bigger than the coach, and the coach can't be bigger than the owner. That's the facts of life."
This is all coming from a player whose motto once was to challenge authority at any costs.
During his stint with four English outdoor soccer teams before coming to the Blast, Ronson once screamed at an owner who he thought was unfairly criticizing the coach after a game.
That fiery nature surfaced often in Ronson's first six years with the Blast, prompting Cooper to say last season: "I believe Billy thrives on controversy. He likes it and plays better that way. It gives him an edge."
Three seasons ago when the Blast was preparing for the playoffs, Ronson kicked teammate Kai Haaskivi from behind in practice and got banished from the workout and scolded by an angry Cooper.
During practice for this season's opener against the Sidekicks, Ronson kicked newcomer Waad Hirmez in the leg and nearly got involved in a fight with Hirmez before teammate Rusty Troy stepped in.
Now Ronson says he is tired of fighting and that all he wants to focus on is helping the Blast to its first championship since 1984.
"I'm in better shape than I've ever been and playing as well as ever," said Ronson, who led the team in scoring most of last season.
4 But even scoring more led to more confrontation.
"All I got from that was a nightmare and a lot of aggravation," said Ronson, who received criticism that he cared more about points than winning. "I don't care if people believe it or not, I don't care more about points than winning games."
Cooper said that Ronson had the unfortunate timing to be doing well when the team was losing (21-31 record).
"Last year, there was a little bit of envy for Billy from other players," said Cooper. "They weren't used to Billy scoring goals. But I believe he should get credit for the season he had. It's not like we would have done better if he hadn't scored all those goals [career-high 35 goals, 33 assists]. I don't believe we would have."
Oldest players in the MSL:
Player, team. . . . . . . . . . .. . . Age
1. Slobo Ilijevski, Storm. . . .. .....42
Joe Waters, Stars. . . . . . . . .. 38
3. Kai Haaskivi, Crunch. . ..... ..... 36
Thompson Usiyan, Sockers. .. .. . . 35
5. Mike Stankovic, Blast. . . ...... *35
Richard Chinapoo, Sidekicks. . . . 34
Billy Ronson, Blast. ...... ... . . 34
8. Dale Mitchell, Stars. . .. .. .. .. 33
9. Cris Vaccaro, Blast. . ... . ... .. 33
10. Chico Moreira, Crunch. . . . .. .. 33
* -- on inactive list because of injury