O's 3 Venezuelans worry about more than playing ball

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Political unrest at home is a concern for trio

slumping Gil takes seat

April 19, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Back home in Venezuela, there's chaos in the streets, and while Melvin Mora, Jorge Julio and Fernando Lunar feel somewhat removed here in the United States, the three Orioles often call home to check on their families.

Mora, Julio and Lunar are three of 38 Venezuelans playing major-league baseball, and each is proud of his homeland.

Earlier this month, the military staged a coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the aftermath of a bloody uprising that killed at least 10 people in Caracas.

The military took Chavez into custody, and Pedro Carmona Estanga took over as interim president. But Estanga resigned under pressure Sunday, and Chavez is back in charge, with reports from Caracas describing a state of turmoil and lawlessness.

"I call my mom every day just to make sure everything's OK," said Julio, who still spends his off-seasons in Caracas.

Lunar has remained with the Orioles after being designated for assignment this week. He'll find out during the next week whether he's been traded, claimed off waivers or sent to Triple-A Rochester.

For now, he has been following the news from Venezuela via the Internet and in twice weekly calls to his mother and sister in Puerto La Cruz, which is about a five-hour drive from Caracas.

"I don't get nervous," Lunar said, "because I know the Venezuelan people, and they won't let anything happen to our country. The only thing you can do is pray. I hope nothing happens. I'd like to go back and play winter ball and see my family."

Mora, who has been the Orioles best player through the first three weeks of the season, said he's concerned for his mother and family, who live about two hours from the Venezuelan capital.

"I know they're fine," Mora said. "I just hope everything goes well from now until the end."

Segui ailing

David Segui left last night's game in the seventh inning with a sore right knee.

"It's actually my good knee - what was my good knee," said Segui, who was limited to 82 games last season with problems in his left knee. "It doesn't feel very good, but hopefully it's not anything serious."

Gil slumping

With Geronimo Gil riding a 2-for-17 slump, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove gave Brook Fordyce his third start of the season at catcher.

Hargrove said Gil's throwing and hitting have suffered since Gil injured his right shoulder in a home-plate collision with Tampa Bay first baseman Steve Cox on April 10.

"He's been sore since then, and I think that it's affected him both offensively and defensively," Hargrove said.

Gil is batting .184 but will likely be back in the lineup tonight, Hargrove said.

Singleton sits again

Hargrove gave center fielder Chris Singleton a second consecutive day off, hoping the time away will help spark him at the plate. Singleton, who ended up getting in the game in the eighth inning and went 0-for-1, is hitting .100.

"I can't sit here and complain about not playing when I haven't been getting the job done," Singleton said.

Singleton has always been a slow starter. He has a .245 career average in April, .278 in May and .307 in June. "As much as you hate to admit it," he said, "it seems like that's how things have gone."

Around the horn

Hitting coach Terry Crowley said Jeff Conine has lost four or five home runs this season on balls that were hit well enough but just didn't carry. "And I know a couple of them would have been three-run homers," Crowley said. "But Conine's tough. He's going to be back with a vengeance, and I can't wait to see it." The wait was short: Conine hit a three-run homer in the third inning last night. ... The Orioles released minor-league outfielder Chad Allen. ... When reliever Erik Bedard made his major-league debut Wednesday night, he became the 200th Canadian-born player to play in the big leagues.

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