Goalkeeper Scott Manning is coming home to the Baltimore Arena tonight, where he hopes to re-enact a winning performance from the past.
"What's important to me is that the game is fun again," said the former Blast keeper, who will be in the net for the Wichita Wings at 7:05. "But it's going to feel strange to play in the Arena and not be playing for the Blast. I'm sure I'm going to go to the wrong bench."
Manning, who joined the Wings on a 15-day contract earlier this month, helped Wichita beat the Blast, 5-4, in double overtime Sunday. Afterward, he was asked for his autograph by his newly acquired Wings fans.
"I had signed six or seven or them, and some of those people came back to me," Manning said. "They handed me what I had signed, and I asked what was the matter. They told me to look at it, and it looked OK to me."
But it didn't look OK to the Wichita fans. Manning had signed his name and the name of his team, only he had written, "Scott Manning, Baltimore Blast."
"Some things die hard," he said with a smile.
Some things do indeed die hard. From 1982 until this season, when he was not re-signed, Manning had been a mainstay here. Fans will recall many highlights of a career that included a 7-0 shutout of San Diego in Game 6 of the MSL Championship series in 1989 and an MVP performance in the team's run to the championship in 1983-84.
"It was a little weird to see him on the Wings side at the start of the game in Wichita Sunday, after having played with him so long," said Blast forward Domenic Mobilio. "And I'm sure this will be one of those nights when the fans will show their appreciation for him at the start of the game here.
"But once the game started in Wichita, I didn't pay any attention to who was in goal, and I won't here. I'm just looking forward to playing and winning the game."
Blast midfielder Billy Ronson greeted an inquiry about playing against Manning as if it came from outer space.
"I don't care if it's Scott Manning, Kris Peat or whoever," Ronson said. "We just have to go win the game. There is no reason for us to get excited because Scott Manning is coming back. The only satisfaction I'm going to get is from winning the game."
Manning also is thinking only about winning tonight, not because he wants to beat his former team, but because he is a Wichita Wing and the Wings, 14-14, need the victory.
"It's exciting for me, because my daughter [5-year-old Kaitlyn] will see me play and so will my parents, who are visiting from Rochester, and a bunch of friends," said Manning, who has purchased more than 40 tickets. "But it would be a disservice to Wichita to place one team above another, because each game and each victory is important. And, besides that, only Mark [Mettrick], Moby [Mobilio], Rusty [Troy] and Billy are still playing from among the guys I played with. It's not like I've played with that team for a long time. Nearly everyone there is new."
But the Arena is an old, familiar friend and so are the fans. And so too is the position Manning will be playing. Goalkeeper. Even after a nine-month layoff, some things come back quickly.
"It doesn't feel too bad to be playings," he said. "I wouldn't say there was a little rust. There was a lot of rust and I'm not sure it will be all gone [tonight]. But there are only a few little, technical things that are still giving me any trouble.
The hard part, he says, has been the concentration level. "Wichita has gotten to the point where they have a certain amount of game sharpness," he explained. "That doesn't come overnight. You try to duplicate what you know, but in a game, it takes time to achieve that sharpness."
Manning is 1-3 with the Wings. His 15-day contract will be up this weekend. He said neither he nor Wings coach Roy Turner have discussed the possibility of another 15-day agreement.