That season, he was assigned to low Single-A Delmarva, where he met his wife, Elizabeth. Later that season, when he was promoted to high Single-A Frederick, he began a life-changing relationship with then-Keys pitching coach and former Orioles great Scott McGregor.

McGregor, who later married Jim and Elizabeth in 2007, was able to hone the fire in Johnson.

"He was and still is really hard on himself," said McGregor, the organization's pitching rehab coordinator. "That's part of being a great athlete, but he was really, really hard. He would pitch seven innings and have one bad stretch and he'd dwell on that. I would tell him, 'why don't you look at the other six innings?'"

"I always knew, with his talent, he can be tremendous," McGregor added. "The last year and half is when his mental strength really got locked in. That's why he's so good now."

The next season, Johnson had his first taste of the majors, but he didn't establish himself at the big league level until 2008 — as a reliever. He took over the closer role — with varying success — late in 2009 after George Sherrill was traded at the deadline.

"When you spend seven years in the minor leagues, for the most part, without really getting a foothold in the major leagues, you're going to be thinking, maybe this isn't going to work out," Johnson said. "I wasn't a first-round pick who was fast-tracked to the big leagues. I had to grind it out every step of the way."

"There's a term for hockey players, my second favorite sport," said Johnson, a lifelong New York Rangers fan, finally offering a smile. "I would consider myself a grinder."

Now, he has a home in Sarasota, Fla., with Elizabeth and his two children, 3-year-old Abigail and 3-month-old Levi. Johnson said becoming a father has made a huge impact on his life, and his focus. "Your priorities change real fast," he said. "They change more when you have two."

In Sarasota, the family has become involved at their new church, Harvest Methodist Church, where Johnson rarely gets recognized.

"I think that's what he wants," Elizabeth Johnson said. "That's how he wants it to be. That keeps him who he is and true to himself. He truly does it for the love of the game. He doesn't do it for the money. He doesn't do it for the fame or for people to recognize it. He just does it because he loves the game."

Elizabeth joked that when she went to the rental car place in Kansas City on Sunday, the clerk didn't know who her husband was.

She laughed. She's used to it.

"He was like, "Who? Jim Johnson?'" she said. "I said, 'Yeah, he's a no-name now, but just wait after this game. Everybody's going to recognize him.'"

eencina@baltsun.com

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Orioles All-Stars



Adam Jones, CF

Stats: .289 batting average, 20 HRs, 44 RBIs, 54 runs scored, 19 2Bs, 11 SBs

Tidbit: After hitting 16 home runs and knocking in 34 runs through the first two months of the season, Jones only had three homers and seven RBIs in 26 games in June. In eight games this month, he is batting .188 with one home run and three RBIs.

Matt Wieters, C

Stats: .247 batting average, 12 HRs, 44 RBIs, 35 runs scored, 14 2Bs

Tidbit: The switch-hitting Wieters batted .384 in 73 at-bats against left-handed pitchers in the first half and only .200 in 210 at-bats against right-handers, but 10 of his 12 home runs came from the left side. He has six home runs at Camden Yards and six on the road.

Jim Johnson, RP

Stats: 1-0, 1.21 ERA, 26 saves, .151 opponents' batting average

Tidbit: Johnson leads the major leagues with 26 saves in 27 opportunities. In his only blown save, on June 5 against the Red Sox, Johnson picked up the win after the Orioles scored twice in the top of the 10th and he retired the side in order in the bottom of the inning.