I remember the first time I met Danny Waltman like it happened yesterday.
I had received a phone call from the Kansas City Comets director of communications, Jeff Husted (who is now a big honcho in the Major Arena Soccer League front office), asking if I would like to have lunch with him and this new indoor soccer team’s goalie.
This was 10 years ago.
The Comets were returning to the Major Indoor Soccer League after an incredible run in the early 1980s that made Enzo DiPede and Comets hall of famers Gino Schiraldi and Alan Mayer the toast of Kansas City.
I was eager to meet Husted and this player who Husted said “would be the most popular player on this new team.”
Boy, was he right.
We arranged to meet at Tim’s Pizza – where else? – and when they arrived, Waltman took over the Independence eatery like he was a part owner.
He soon began talking up this new team, handing out stickers and schedules, signing autographs and turning on the charm like only Danny Waltman can.
Waltman was the first player signed by the Comets and it took just a few seconds in his presence to realize the impact he was going to have in the community. After watching him at a practice session, I sensed that he was equally adept at keeping a soccer ball out of the back of the net.
For five years, it was Waltman’s World in Independence, and we were thankful for letting all of us be a part of it.
“Danny is a special player and a special person,” said Comets all-time scoring king and first-year player/coach Leo Gibson, who was Waltman’s teammate those first five years.
“He was the face of our team, and he loved that. He loved to visit with the fans and had a real presence. But once the game started, he was all business.”
Added his former teammate and roommate, defender Brian Harris: “There’s only one Danny Waltman. The world wasn’t big enough for two.”
Waltman was in goal during the 2013-14 season when the Comets won the last MISL championship, and he spent a long time at KCI Airport signing autographs and posing for photos with fans. It was evident that he was having as much fun as his adoring public.
Waltman returned to his former home, SEC Arena, Saturday night as he is now the starting goalkeeper for the Tacoma Stars.
Waltman opted out of his Comets contract back in 2015 – with the team’s blessing – to return to his hometown when the Stars became a part of the MASL.
Before the game, I wanted my son Zach’s 13-year-old daughter Kaya, a freshman who is the starting goalie on her high school indoor soccer team, to meet the personable Waltman.
When he saw us near the locker room, he came over and gently slapped away my hand – outstretched for a handshake – to give me a back-breaking hug.
He then hugged Zach and Kaya and visited with her about the sport of goalkeeping.
“I have just one thing to say to you about goalkeeping,” he said, with a wink, “pick another position.”
Kaya giggled and Waltman gave her a nudge.
He told her to keep him updated on her indoor season and then went out to join his teammates.
While Kaya cheered for the Comets – “I like Danny, but I love the Comets,” Kaya said – as the hometown team treated the icon rudely, claiming a 9-2 win.
One might think that Waltman would sulk off the field, avoiding any contact with the cheering Comets fans following that loss.
If you think that’s how he would react to the loss, you do not know Danny Waltman.
He joined the Comets in their postgame walk around the field, high-fiving fans, carrying youngsters on his shoulders, signing autographs and posing for photos. He made sure to congratulate rookie goalie Lou Misner, who was on the winning end of that score.
He exchanged emails and addresses with everyone who asked and even spent a few special moments with his former coach, Vlatko Andonovski, who is now the United States Women’s National Team coach.
“Danny was so special,” Andonovski said. “When you win championships, you win them with players like Danny Waltman.”
When Waltman saw me on the field, he excused himself from a group of fans and gave me another hug – a sweaty, heartfelt hug that was made even more special when he said, “Love you man.”
Right back at ya, Danny Waltman. Thanks for the memories – past and present.
Brian Harris was right – there is only one Danny Waltman, and thank goodness he was able to grace us with his presence for five memorable years.
– Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com or 816-350-6333. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC