Newest A's reliever Jim Johnson is something of a Superman type, a man of action beloved by all; not a bad thing for a closer.

He's worked as a volunteer fireman, has appeared in a popular TV show, is a wine connoisseur and does an immense amount of community work, much of it with no fanfare. Those he left behind in Baltimore call Johnson "a tremendous man, a tremendous husband, a tremendous father."

"And on top of it all, he's a hell of a pitcher," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said by phone. "He's a great teammate, a great competitor, he never makes excuses. He's a sharp guy. I could talk about him forever."

Johnson, 30, spent his entire professional career with Baltimore, where former A's reliever Chad Bradford was among the veterans who helped him adjust to relief pitching.

"He was a big guy, 6-foot-6, and I thought he'd throw 100 mph but would still have a lot to learn," Bradford said. "But I remember an at-bat he had against Manny Ramirez - Jim threw a few good sinkers and Manny couldn't handle them. Then he dropped a curveball in there, three-pitch strikeout, boom, done, and he made Manny look bad. I was like, 'Man, he's going to be special!' "

The Orioles, though, didn't quite know what to do with Johnson. He spent three years at rookie ball and nearly tossed it in at that point, drafted at 17 years old and watching college pitchers with less ability promoted.

"I was just considering going home," Johnson said. "It was awful."

He didn't make it up until 2006, when he made one start and gave up nine hits and eight runs in three innings. The following year, he worked two innings in relief.

Finally, in 2008, at the age of 24, Johnson was called up for good. He got all the work he could handle in the bullpen with the Orioles, who finished last in the division and had one of the worst ERAs in baseball - their starters had a mark of 5.51.