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."