Big Blast fan as a kid tries to become fixture as a pro

Rookie Wakefield scores early for his dream team


October 18, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

P.J. Wakefield grew up a Blast fan, a fixture at home games by the age of 8 - grabbing autographs and a hot dog - with the occasional chance to play on the carpet at Baltimore Arena during halftime.

Those times have made these times that much more special for the hometown rookie, a Calvert Hall graduate and UMBC standout who has needed only three games to make a pro impression he hopes will be lasting.

"It's something I dreamed about," he said. "I grew up watching the Blast, and I always wanted to play for them. This is my chance to do what I've always wanted to do."

Nervous before his professional debut in front of the home crowd on Oct. 5, the 21-year-old target forward found a quick remedy. What better way to rid yourself of first-game jitters than scoring on your first shift?

"It's a confidence-builder when you get thrown out there right from the start - it shows they have confidence in you," Wakefield said. "I just wanted to have a good showing, do what I've been doing in practice and keep up. And then my first shift, I score, and it just kept going uphill from there."

Uphill as in going on to add the game-winner in the Blast's 14-6 season-opening win over the Cleveland Force that night and then scoring in both of the team's two road games last weekend - a loss in Cleveland and a win in Dallas.

The Blast will take a 2-1 mark into tomorrow night's game against the visiting Milwaukee Wave, and Wakefield, sharing the team scoring lead with nine points, has surprisingly played a big part.

"One of the things I told him before the first game was to not let the game come to him, but go to the game - attack the game. He's doing fantastic," Blast midfielder Paul Wright said.

Selected by the Blast in the Major Indoor Soccer League's amateur draft, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Wakefield not only had to adjust to the faster pace of professional indoor soccer but also a change in positions from midfield to up-front.

"He has all the attributes you look for in a target player. He's got a cannon for a shot, is big, strong and wide to hold the ball, and he knows when to go in the corner and when to show for the ball," coach Kevin Healey said. "Ask me before training camp if he would be ready to contribute this soon, and I would have said it was a stretch. But it became obvious after 2 1/2 weeks of practice that he was in our top 16. That's how well he played."

Wakefield also has been sure to take full advantage of valuable resources - his more experienced teammates. Tarik Walker and Lee Tschantret have willingly shown him all the intricacies of the target position, and he's proving to be a quick study.

The older guys are impressed.

"He definitely has a good sense of the position, and along with that comes a bit of composure," said Walker. "He's already been in situations where you can see that he's not rattled. It's not often that you see that in a young player."

The hard part is next.

With goals come attention, and Wakefield can expect more and more starting tomorrow night against Milwaukee. He seems to be on that, too.

"For me as a rookie, it's still a big learning experience," he said. "Every game I play, I'm learning something new, and every team I see will defend me differently. I've just got to learn, and once I settle in, I can probably get even better."

Wakefield can't recall the first autograph he got back in those younger days, but he won't forget the first time he was working the pen after his impressive opening-night effort.

"After the game, I must have signed a hundred or so," he said. "It was great, neat to see kids looking up to me and some other fans saying `good game.' "

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