SARASOTA, Fla. – A little after 10:30 on Thursday morning, a tall bearded man wearing shorts, green sneakers and Orioles jersey No. 18 walked onto the field at Ed Smith Stadium.
There were a number of television cameras following the hopeful around, and after he picked up a bat, he admitted he was a little rusty.
You see, Michael Phelps has been a little busy for the last 10 years, capturing 18 gold medals in the last three Olympics. Happily retired from competition, Phelps was in town with Hank Haney, Tiger Woods’ former swing coach to work on the series: “The Haney Project” on the Golf Channel.
Haney, wearing No. 72 for par, also took some batting practice and gave a few tips to Adam Jones. But, it was Phelps who drew the attention.
The Baltimore resident took five rounds of batting practice, starting slowly, but later blasting a couple of balls to the outfield.
“It’s been a long time since I swung a bat,” Phelps said before walking into the cage.
A few minutes before he starting swinging, manager Buck Showalter came over to greet him and clearly had no sympathy for Phelps.
“I haven’t been in a pool for 30 years, but I’m not drowning,” Showalter joked.
As third base coach Bobby Dickerson threw to Phelps, players and coaches shouted encouragement. “Man on third, one out, infield in,” Showalter yelled.
When Phelps tapped a ball through the infield, Showalter said: “That’s a knock. That’s a run.”
It’s been quite a few months for Phelps, who enjoyed last season’s Orioles’ success from afar.
“Last year, I was a little busy,” Phelps joked. “I’ll be there Opening Day.”
After the Orioles’ run, Phelps thrilled to watching the Ravens and was in New Orleans for the Super Bowl.
“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. Buck was saying, they all set the bar high. So obviously looking for an exciting season for the guys,” Phelps said.
Batting practice over, Phelps was required to assist in clean up. “Pick ‘em up,” someone yelled. Phelps looked surprised. “That’s the best part,” Jones told him. So, Phelps trudged over and kicked a few balls toward the basket and tossed a few more over.
“These guys are just normal guys, they are funny guys, they are just out here having fun and I enjoyed being around them,” Phelps said.