Mora enjoys five reasons to try that much harder

Orioles Plus

Wife's difficult pregnancy in '01 troubled him

now quintuplets, game flourish

April 21, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

With her quintuplets riding as passengers, single-file, Gisel Mora arrived at Camden Yards recently with a one-of-its-kind baby stroller.

The five babies, all healthy and happy, had come to see where Daddy worked. Melvin Mora emerged from the Orioles' clubhouse and smiled. What a difference a year makes, he thought.

There were times last season when Melvin would fall asleep in the batting cage from sheer exhaustion. He would go straight from the ballpark to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Gisel was treated during a most complicated pregnancy.

He'd go home, sleep two or three hours, and return to the hospital with breakfast for Gisel "because," Mora said, "you know how the hospital food is."

When it came time to do his job, Melvin was tired, and his performance suffered.

His batting average with the Orioles sagged 41 points from the 2000 season, when he arrived in a trade from the New York Mets and hit .291.

It was a sometimes agonizing year for the Moras, who learned in mid-March that Gisel was pregnant with quintuplets. On July 28, while Melvin was in California with the Orioles, Gisel gave birth three months prematurely.

Along the way, there were several anxious moments, but the Mora Mobile provided proof of how far they've all come. Genesis, the first baby born and smallest of the bunch, now weighs 12 pounds. Jada weighs 13 pounds, Rebecca 15, Matthew 16 and Christian 17.

They will be 9 months old next Sunday, but as preemies, their progress gets measured as if they were approaching the 6-month mark.

"Overall, they're doing well," Gisel said. "They're growing. The doctors are really happy with their progress. We still have some preemie issues, but we're over the worst of it."

Melvin can rest a little easier these days, and it shows.

Possibly the Orioles' most valuable player through the first three weeks, Mora entered this weekend's series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays batting .311 with 14 walks and seven stolen bases.

He has started at four positions, nearly one for every new baby - left field, center field, second base and shortstop - and committed just two errors.

"Melvin," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said, "is a special player."

Gisel just wishes her husband would relax more.

"He's a worrywart," she said lovingly this week.

When Melvin is home, he tries letting Gisel get some much-deserved rest. He gets up with the babies. He takes Gisel's oldest daughter, Tatiana, to school.

When the Orioles left for this 10-game road trip, Melvin was hitting .261, and Gisel told him they'd have to change some things if he started hitting better on the road. Six games into the trip, Melvin had assumed the team's leadoff role and raised his average to .341.

"So," Gisel said, laughing, "he's moving out."

In the back of Melvin's mind, he thinks about how he'll be eligible for arbitration at season's end. The Orioles are paying him $350,000 this season, and he sends some of that home to his mother in Venezuela.

With a big year, Mora could add to his salary by the millions, which will help pay for the diapers and formula, not to mention his kids' college tuition.

"He went into this year and said, `I'm going to prove them all wrong. I'm going to the All-Star Game,' " Gisel said. "Because of the whole situation [at home], he's putting pressure on himself. But Melvin is a fighter and he knows how to handle it."

Late in spring training, Melvin publicly vented his frustration after learning Hargrove planned to start him just three to five times per week. But injuries to left fielder Marty Cordova and second baseman Jerry Hairston have kept Melvin in the lineup every game, and now Hargrove doesn't want to take him out.

Melvin now says he'll be happy in whatever role Hargrove uses him.

"If you are worried about arbitration, it's selfish because then I just worry about myself I don't worry about the team," Melvin said. "So now, I worry about the team, and nothing else crosses my mind because I want everybody, especially the manager, to see me play hard for him."

Besides, Melvin has a pretty good role model for unselfishness at home, in Gisel.

"It's unbelievable," Melvin said. "I've never seen somebody like that, even with one baby. I think she's a wonderful wife."

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