A visit by Olympic champion to the Maryland State House on Thursday transformed delegates into a salivating swarm of paparazzi.
Politicians took pictures on their cell phones, whistled and gaped as House Speaker Michael E. Busch introduced a "very special guest." He said that unlike Phelps, lawmakers are not "great swimmers … but they all know how to tread water very well."
Addressing the House of Delegates, a somewhat nervous-seeming Phelps smiled and said it "feels good to be back home" in Baltimore, causing the Baltimore delegation to leap to its feet.
On the way between the House and Senate, a gray-suited Phelps fielded a question from a reporter on the issue of the day: fear that the Preakness Stakes could be sold out of state under a bankruptcy auction.
Phelps, who has been known to enjoy a party, said that he has never been to the second jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico and hopes to attend this year.
"To have it leave Baltimore, I can't really see that happening," he said, adding that such a turn of events "would be devastating."
While Phelps was being lauded on the Senate floor by Baltimore County Sen. Jim Brochin for the swimmer's generosity to his fans, a group of admirers - mostly women, many gussied up - stood in the lobby waiting for a sliver of that generosity.
They were upset to learn from security moments later that Phelps had left through a side door.
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