After 12 years, Wittman may rank as Baltimore's freest Spirit

January 09, 1993|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

Tim Wittman is different. Even Spirit coach Kenny Cooper says he is a "character." Wittman's teammates chuckle and tell stories about him.

They say that Wittman owns two houses on Federal Hill and rents one to Spirit players Doug Neely and Steve Boardman and trainer Marty McGinty. He and Cindy Thurlow live in the other, a block away.

For some bizarre reason, Wittman is fascinated by McGinty's first name. He says it just for the sake of saying it. "Marty, Marty." Rather, he screams it, making up a variety of pronunciations.

"He's the most creative guy I've ever known with the way he says Marty," Neely said dryly. "One time we played our answering machine and heard nothing but Marty about 1,500 times, 1,500 different ways, until the tape ran out."

If Neely and McGinty leave a window open, Wittman will climb in and hide until someone enters the room and then leap out and shout, "Marty!" Even if it's Neely or Boardman.

Unable to open their front door one morning, they peered out a window and saw that Wittman had blocked it with a stop sign he had found in the neighborhood.

Wittman makes no attempt to deny his friends' accounts of his behavior.

"I'm kind of hyper," said Wittman, who, after missing three games with a sprained back, will return tonight when the Spirit plays the Blizzard in Buffalo.

"It's hard for me to stay inside and watch TV. They live right around the corner, so it's a chance for mischief."

Wittman has always been this way. He grew up in a soccer family in the Herring Run section of Baltimore, played at Calvert Hall, became a pro with the Blast at 17 and is still going strong at 29, on the field as well as off it with his pranks.

"After 10 years, Cindy is numb to it," Wittman said. "It used to embarrass her. Like, we'd go to a mall and I'd do goofy things with the mannequins. But I've never gotten in serious trouble. I know when to call it quits."

Cooper marvels at the fact Wittman has stayed in one piece after 11 years of indoor soccer. He has had knee surgery five times yet has played in 371 games.

"You've got to be bionic to do that," Cooper said.

This season has been frustrating for Wittman, for he has missed half of the Spirit's 12 games. Before being forced out of three games with the back injury, he missed three with a sprained ankle.

"I've been out, but we're still winning," Wittman said, referring to the Spirit's 11-2 record that leads the National Professional Soccer League. "I'll be more valuable if I'm ready at the end of the season."

Said Cooper: "Coming back now,he'll give us a lift. The good things are he's 100 percent healthy now and we won without him, the mark of a good team. We stayed focused, and I hope that's a statement to the other teams."

Knowing Wittman as well as he does, Cooper allows him to be different because it seems to improve his performance.

Twice this season Wittman has made daring, eye-catching shootout goals, once dribbling the ball with his knee and then popping it over the goalie's head into the net. Another time he flipped the ball with his foot behind his back, over his shoulder and the keeper's head and into the goal.

Cooper might discourage other players from trying such shots, reasoning, "Hey, that's not you."

But he knows that it is Tim Wittman.

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