Make no mistake about it. Baltimore is a town that is proud of its sports stars. Johnny Unitas, Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken, Jr. are among the athletes that have a special place in the hearts of Charm City sports fans.
Now added to that list is Michael Phelps, who won his 19th Olympic medal, more than any athlete in Olympic history. To say that his hometown is proud would an understatement.
The 27-year-old Baltimore swimmer started his career at the age of seven at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club where yesterday a crowd of about 100 fans, most in their swim suits, watched Phelps pick up two medals. First came the silver medal in the 200-meter butterfly—his signature event. Then came the record-breaking 19th medal as he was part of the USA’s 4x200-meter freestyle relay team that won the gold.
As someone who lives in the area, I like to tell people that Baltimore really isn't a city, it is a small town where people feel comfortable walking up and talking to their sports heroes. Working for the Washington Examiner and the now defunct Baltimore Examiner, I have enjoyed covering Phelps over the years.
He is someone who gets fame, but at the same time, Phelps embraces his hometown and his vast legions of fans.
From Sabatino's Italian Restaurant in the “Little Italy” section of Baltimore to Attman's Deli on “Corned Beef Row,” there are countless eateries around town where autographed pictures of Phelps hang in a prominent place on the wall.
Phelps is a rabid Ravens fan and has a number of times walked from his Fells Point home (he is presently looking for a more private place) to M&T Bank Stadium to watch his team play on a Sunday afternoon. He enjoys stopping at a few of his favorite haunts along the way and mixing with his community.
There is no doubt that Phelps is an international superstar, but his roots are in Baltimore. The bond between Phelps, his fans and his hometown remains a special one.