For the first time as visiting players Tuesday afternoon, Baltimore natives Steve Clevenger and Steve Johnson walked through the hallway under the Camden Yards concourse that leads to the clubhouses and had to fight off a strong impulse.
Now both members of the Seattle Mariners, they had to resist the urge to go into the Orioles clubhouse — as they had done countless times without a second thought — and kept walking to the visitors' clubhouse farther down the hall.
"It's awesome to be here, but being on the other side is definitely odd for me, just walking in and passing the home clubhouse and wondering if I should peek in or not," said Johnson, a St. Paul's graduate who pitched in the Orioles organization for most of the past seven seasons and reached the big leagues with the club in 2012, 2013 and 2015. "It's definitely different, but I'm glad to be here."
Clevenger and Johnson got to live out the dream of playing for their hometown team. Their return to Camden Yards this week will be a different experience. They expect to see plenty of familiar faces in the stands. They were both popular among Orioles fans because of their local roots.
"It is kind of weird," said Clevenger, a Pigtown native and Mount Saint Joseph graduate who had been an Oriole since July 2013. "You know, you grew up rooting for the Orioles and you come in here as a visiting player, and obviously you want to win games while you're here. But like I said, the fans here are great. It's a great baseball town. I'll always cherish my moments from when I was here."
Johnson took advantage of a day off Monday in Baltimore, feasting on two dozen steamed crabs from Costas Inn.
"They were pretty good," Johnson said with a smile. "I crushed them and then slept in my own bed."
Even though their roles with the Mariners have been limited — Clevenger entered the series having played in just 10 games and Johnson went in with just four relief appearances since being promoted from Triple-A Tacoma — they return to Baltimore as members of a first-place team.
Both the Orioles and the Mariners entered their three-game series at Camden Yards as unlikely leaders of their divisions. Johnson pitched the final inning of the Mariners' 10-0 win Tuesday night, allowing no runs or hits and striking out one.
"Whenever you get traded out and you are playing for a winning team, it's always good," Clevenger said. "The Orioles are playing well, too, so I anticipate a pretty good series with" them.
Clevenger was the key piece of the December trade with the Mariners that brought slugger Mark Trumbo to Baltimore, a deal that looks like a steal given Trumbo's spectacular start to the season.
Playing almost exclusively against right-handed pitching behind starting catcher Chris Iannetta, the left-handed-hitting Clevenger is batting .188/.257/.281 with one homer and four RBIs.
"It's going well," Clevenger said. "I haven't been playing that much, but the times I've played it's been great. Everything has been good over here."
Johnson's path to the Pacific Northwest was more indirect. He signed a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers but was released in mid-March. On the same day he was released, Johnson received a call from the Mariners, who had also expressed interest in him during the offseason, and he signed with them three days later.
"They were one of the first teams who called and then when I got there, they were just interested in letting me pitch the way I know I can," Johnson said. "They said, 'Do what you do,' and they've been pretty good about it."
He did well in a long-relief role at Triple-A. Just one of his seven relief appearances there was less than two innings, and he posted a 2.25 ERA in 16 innings. Johnson faced control problems in his time with the Orioles — he averaged 5.5 walks per nine innings with the club — but he struck out 20 and walked two with Tacoma.
The Mariners added him May 3, and he allowed just one run over six innings in his first five appearances with them.
"It's been good," Johnson said. "I haven't pitched too much. But when I throw strikes, I'm still able to get guys out and I've been able to do that for the most part. Just whenever I'm in there, I've been able to attack as usual. It's been good so far."
Long-relief spots aren't stable, and though Johnson was hoping he'd still be with the major league club when it came to Baltimore, he wasn't sure he would be. That didn't stop family and friends from buying tickets with the hope of seeing him pitch this week.
"I have a lot of family and friends coming and a lot of people buying tickets, just hoping I'd still be with the team, so there are a lot of people coming to the game," Johnson said. "It's just fun being back here."
Asked who will have more fans in the stands this week, Clevenger said he thinks he has Johnson beat, claiming to have 20 to 30 fans in the stands.
"I think I've got Johnson," Clevenger said. "I think I've got him. … My phone has been going off the hook the last week when we are coming into town. But it's always good to be home and see the family and everything like that. So it will always hold a special place in my heart."