Many of the folks who will come to Du Burns Arena to watch the Baltimore Bays battle the Reading Freedom in their home opener tonight will be there to support the local contingent in its quest for a U.S. Interregional Soccer League title.
What they'll also get is an opportunity to observe a Baltimore icon in the twilight of his career.
When Billy Ronson takes the floor tonight for the Bays, it will mark the ninth year that the 37-year-old England native has suited up for one of Baltimore's pro indoor soccer teams.
Ronson has seen his share of players and leagues come and go -- remember the MISL and the MSL? -- during his time here and he realizes that with every passing year the public microscope draws into sharper focus, but he isn't ready to back out of the limelight just yet.
"I don't beat around the bloody bush; I know I can still play," said Ronson, whose British accent remains firmly intact despite his having lived in Baltimore since 1986.
"Without a question, I think I could play for the Spirit, but soccer is all about opinion and I'm happy right where I am.
"I've always played the game for my own satisfaction and for the fans. The fans in Baltimore have been unbelievable and they are the only ones I'll listen to, and that's because they spend the money and they can say what they want."
While it would seem more fitting for the former Blast star to finish his career with Baltimore's National Professional Soccer League franchise, Ronson insists he couldn't be happier running around in a Bays uniform in Canton.
"People still enjoy watching me play and I want to play for the Bays because I like the people I'm working for," said Ronson, who also coaches Goucher College's women's team.
"[Bays coach] Kevin Healey and [club owner] Bill Wallace are the only ones keeping me going. These two people are outstanding individuals who don't care about financial gains but just care about progression of soccer in Baltimore. They both want the kids of Baltimore to continue to progress and I see this and it keeps me going."
In his inaugural season with the Bays last year, Ronson led not only his team but the entire USISL in assists with 34. A hamstring injury during the team's outdoor season cut his offensive productivity, but whether he's healthy or not, Healey enjoys having the 5-foot-4, 140-pounder on his roster.
"Billy has been one of the driving forces on this team both indoors and out," said Healey.
"His work rate on the field is only matched by his work rate off the field. For his age, he is very fit. He works out every morning and he's still very quick, especially in the indoor game. He knows the game and the angles and he continues to make great contributions."
Opponent: Reading (Pa.) Freedom
Site: Du Burns Arena, Canton (Directions from the Inner Harbor: Take Pratt Street east to President St.; right on President to Fleet St.; go one mile and make a right on Boston St.; arena is approximately one mile on the left at corner of Boston St. and Elwood Ave.)
Outlook: The Bays (1-0) will try to rebound from last weekend's 11-2 season-opening loss to the defending USISL-champion Atlanta Magic, which cruised to its 38th straight win. Reading, which returns to Du Burns on Jan. 13, opens its inaugural indoor season tonight. The Freedom is led by forwards Nigel Sparks (two goals, three assists during the outdoor season), Steve Thomas (three goals) and Richie Graham (three goals). Billy Ronson and John Stroud provided the only goals in the Bays' opener and keeper Dave Tenney had 20 saves. All fans 16-and-under will receive a free Bays T-shirt tonight, courtesy of Action Business Systems.