02/21/2013 12:16 PM ET
Olympic champ, O's fan Phelps stops by camp
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles got a special guest for Thursday's batting practice session, with Olympic swimmer -- and Baltimore County native -- Michael Phelps taking swings at Ed Smith Stadium, signing autographs and hanging out with the players prior to the team's intrasquad game.
Phelps wore uniform No. 18, a tribute to the number of gold medals he's won, and took five rounds of batting practice. He got tips from numerous guys, everyone from center fielder Adam Jones to hitting coach Jim Presley and despite joking before stepping in that he might need a tee, Phelps got better each time out, hitting long fly balls on his final go-through's.
"I wanted to hit one out, but we caught a couple that were close," said Phelps, who got some good-natured teasing from first-base coach Wayne Kirby about using his lower body more.
"I did [listen to the advice] and I started to tell when I was hitting underneath it instead of on top of it," Phelps said. "As soon as I started thinking about it, I saw some changes, which was good."
Phelps is in town shooting Season 5 of the "The Haney Project" on the Golf Channel. The show features host Hank Haney improving amateur golfers' game, and they spent Wednesday at Laurel Oak Country Club. Haney, who also took batting practice and had an Orioles jersey, is a renowned swing coach who worked with Tiger Woods, and he gave Jones some tips on the side of the field. The pair's trip to the stadium will be featured toward the end of the series, with third-base coach Bobby Dickerson throwing the celebrity batting practice.
"It's my first time taking BP, so it was a cool experience," said Phelps, who played baseball from ages 10-12 and has a home in the Canton area. "Being able to do that with these guys and especially after a remarkable season and hopefully they have a good one coming up. These guys are just normal guys -- they are funny guys, they are just out here having fun and I enjoyed being around them."
Phelps, the most decorated medalist in Olympic history with 22 medals, wasn't able to attend any Orioles' game last year -- as he put it, he was "a little busy" with the Games -- but he won't miss out on 2013.
"I'll be there Opening Day," said Phelps, a frequent fixture in attendance during the Ravens games this past season. "It's been a good year. Obviously the Orioles making the playoffs for the first time in a long time. And then with the Ravens bringing back the ring. [Orioles manager Buck Showalter] was saying, they all set the bar high."
Johnson being cautious with full season in mind
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Last spring, Jim Johnson was slowed to start camp due to a back issue. A year later, the Orioles closer is coming off a team-record 51 saves, and Johnson -- along with Darren O'Day and Luis Ayala -- is again being brought along a little slower.
But this time, Johnson is healthy and the team's cautiousness revolves around keeping the 29-year-old, a vital component of 2012's success, fresh over the course of a 162-game regular season.
"I'm where I need to be," said Johnson, who threw a handful of bullpens before arriving to Sarasota, where he's thrown twice since camp opened Feb. 12. "Now when I take the mound, I'm able to work on something specific instead of trying to build up arm strength and stuff. That's what before Spring Training [is for], to use that time to build up arm strength. And get used to throwing out of your delivery."
Johnson went 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA in 63 appearances last season, making his first All-Star team in the process, in his first full season as the team's closer.
"I think people perceive things differently after last season, but I don't think it changes anything about my work ethic or my expectations on the season and all that," Johnson said. "I'm still going to keep doing the things that I think you have to do to be successful here at this level. It doesn't matter if I'm pitching the ninth or the second."
One of the veterans of a young Orioles pitching staff, Johnson's corner locker isn't far from top prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, who are both projected to arrive in Baltimore at some point this season. The two have also blended in seamlessly to big league camp -- with Bundy also there last year -- and have stayed pretty much under the radar, minus some good-natured rookie ribbing.
"They are good kids," Johnson said of Bundy and Gausman. "This camp is more laid back than it has been in years past. Guys here, our goal here is just to win. But at the same time, enjoy it. There are guys here playing ping pong and bumper pool. It's just a boys club right now. Guys are comfortable with each other and hopefully that translates onto the field."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.