SAN DIEGO — Juli Veee's comments are once again as colorful as his paintings, his frame of mind as spirited as his play on the soccer field.
"He's like a phoenix that has risen from the ashes," Socker midfielder Brian Quinn said. "The rumor is he was at the Lawrence Welk Village, and he was rejuvenated. It's visions of 'Cocoon.' He looks so sharp and into the game. And more so than the past two years, he seems to be enjoying it. He's fun again."
Trace Veee's resurgence back to the incident . He was suspended by the Sockers for 30 days after he slapped Johan Aarnio, a Socker assistant coach, after a home victory over Minnesota Nov. 22.
"That could have been the end of my career," said Veee, at 37 an aging star in the final year of a $90,000-a-year contract on a club undergoing a youth movement.
Instead, it was a turning point that has resulted in Veee's rebirth at the same time that he is being recognized for past achievements. Friday, he was selected to the 10-player Major Indoor Soccer League All-Star team of the decade.
"Without negative, there is no positive," Veee said of the suspension. "Being philosophical about it--I love to philosophize--there is no such thing as good without the bad and bad without the good. Something good came out of this . . .
"I'm more at peace with myself. You can see it in me. You could talk to me before, and I'd be sarcastic and down and tired and fatigued. Now I'm more at peace. If this doesn't work out, that's OK; something else will.
"With soccer, I feel good. I think I've been playing better now than I have been. My mind is free of many, many poisonous things. Politics and other things. I resolved to myself to play to the best of my ability, and I think it shows on the field. It's dynamic, like my paintings."
During his suspension, Veee devoted himself to Southwestern style painting. He left town and headed to Arizona to find artistic inspiration. The work resulted in an exhibition at the Art Collector gallery in San Diego starting March 11.
Acting on the advice of agent Scott Simpson, the usually verbose Veee did not discuss the Aarnio incident and his subsequent suspension, which he terms his "exile."
Veee was quiet and subdued. Veee wasn't Veee.
But now the real Veee is back. He's starting, and he's speaking out about the slap and the suspension and how the exile has helped turn his life around.
The slap: "It wasn't Johan that I was lashing out at," Veee said. "I hope everybody understood that. . . . The frustration of being forced to go to Las Vegas (he was sold to Las Vegas before the 1984-85 season), the frustration of coming back. A lot of things swelled up. All the players moaning and groaning and things and all these arguments. I guess I had enough."
Veee was one of the prime moaners and groaners. He also was reaching a point where he was no longer capable of doing things he did earlier in his career. That turnaround right-footer from the crease had lost some of its crispness. And he was going through his second divorce.
It all boiled over on the night of Nov. 22.
"I don't know if it's right to say, but I guess anybody who would have been there could have gotten hit," Veee said. "It didn't make any difference who it was. It would have been better if it was someone from the other team. It would have been easier to explain. but I have nothing against the man that way. It wasn't him I was lashing out at. I have no hard feelings whatsoever. I don't hold him responsible for me being suspended, either."
Veee and Aarnio have had their differences over the years--"We've had a love-hate relationship for a long time," Aarnio said--but both say those have now been set aside. Veee says he has exchanged pleasantries with Aarnio since his return, and Aarnio says they work with each other in a professional manner.
"We don't talk too much about it now," Aarnio said. "We both help each other to do what's best for the team. I don't think there's any bitterness or hard feelings or animosity left."
The suspension: Immediately after he slapped Aarnio, Veee began dreading possible repercussions. So, in unusual fashion for Veee, he tried to sidestep reporters' questions and joke through it.
"When I said it was a case of mistaken identity," Veee said, "I didn't know what to say. I was shocked at my own behavior. I didn't know how the club would react to it so I didn't want to make a big deal out of it."
The club reacted harshly.
The new Socker management--headed by Ron Fowler, chairman of the board of Sockers Management Inc., and president Ron Cady--sent a message to the Socker players. They suspended Veee for the maximum allowable time for a "major offense" under the Major Indoor Soccer League's collective bargaining agreement with the MISL Players Assn. This was the first opportunity for the new Socker management, which had taken over Oct. 14, to flex its muscles.
"The new management wanted to make an example, saying this is the way things run around here," Veee said.