Strike threat adds to Mora's worries

Player: With six young children at home and relatives in Venezuela counting on him, Orioles outfielder-shortstop plans for the worst, hopes for the best.

August 27, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Melvin Mora worries about the fans at Camden Yards and how a baseball strike would affect them. He worries about his teammates, who would lose out on a full season. He sympathizes with ownership, which could take a major financial hit from another work stoppage and the harsh repercussions.

And that doesn't even include his concerns at home, where a wife and six young children present issues that are unique inside the Orioles clubhouse. Or in his native Venezuela, where family members depend on his generosity.

The Major League Baseball Players Association's strike date is Friday. The union and team owners continue to negotiate on a new labor deal, but they don't seem close to agreement on revenue sharing and a tax on clubs with high player payrolls.

Though the games could end after Thursday night, Mora's responsibilities will continue. And Mora, 30, has enough to fill the B&O warehouse.

Mora's salary is $350,000 this year, $150,000 more than the major-league minimum.

"Hopefully, nothing happens," said Mora, an outfielder and shortstop in his third season with the Orioles and fourth in the majors. "I try to stay positive. I try to stay relaxed."

He also stays prepared. Mora usually plays winter ball in Venezuela but doesn't report until late November. If there's a strike, he'll leave behind wife Gisel, daughter Tatiana, 5, and 1-year-old quintuplets Genesis, Christian, Rebekah, Matthew and Jada for the start of the season Oct. 12.

"I worry about it, but if they don't pay me, somebody will have to pay me," Mora said. "I'll try to do my best and make some money over there. It's something I can't control. If we have to work somewhere else, if she has to work or I have to go to Venezuela to play, we'll do it.

"We don't see this in our country. This is my first time. The last time there was a strike [in 1994], I was in the minor leagues. Now I'm in the big leagues, and I wasn't ready for this."

Mora's wife doesn't want to see him go, she said, "but we've got to feed our family. He was looking forward to spending the off-season with us, but what can you do? How do the kids eat?"

The quintuplets, born July 28, 2001, remain on a special formula because their digestive systems aren't ready for solid food. They also require six or seven doctors "because specialists are needed for every little thing," said Gisel Mora, 28.

"Insurance covers most of it, but I've been getting bills lately because claims have gotten so high that we're only covered 80 percent," she said.

Melvin Mora's salary ranks 15th on the Orioles - among the team's regulars, second baseman Jerry Hairston, outfielder Jay Gibbons and catcher Geronimo Gil make less - but he'll be eligible for arbitration after the season and could be bumped to near $2 million.

No matter how much Mora makes, he'll continue to send money to his mother and other relatives. His brother died this year in an apparent contract killing in Venezuela, and Mora has taken over financial responsibility for his brother's children.

"His sisters try to help out as much as they can," Gisel Mora said. "He basically told them that when it comes to schoolbooks and clothes and tuition, he would cover it. And things in Venezuela are crazy. One minute they can call and say they need X amount of dollars, and Melvin will never say no, even if he doesn't really have it."

Although his .250 batting average has disappointed some club officials, Mora's has 18 homers this season, three more than his career total coming into the year. His 58 RBIs, also a career high, place him third on the team, and only Tony Batista has more at-bats than Mora's 468.

Seeking greater security for his family, Mora picked a good time to establish himself as a regular part of the lineup.

"It's an important year for me, I know that," he said.

"Of course, he has that on his mind," Gisel Mora said, "but the one thing he tells me is he can't think that way because he's a team player. That's something I've always known of Melvin. He doesn't care if he goes 4-for-4 tonight. If [the team] loses, he comes home just as gloomy as if he went 0-for-4.

"He did make us a promise over the winter that he was going to work hard because he needed to provide for his family. It may seem hard for people to believe, but Melvin was in the gym at 9:30 every night. I'd put the kids to bed around 9, and he would go to the gym until 11, 11:30.

"He worked hard to get himself in shape and get himself prepared mentally, above all, because it was really draining for him worrying about me and the babies during the pregnancy and then not being here."

Gisel Mora spent six years working for her husband's agent, Peter Greenberg, so she has a better understanding of baseball's inner workings than most players' wives. She keeps him current on various issues, clarifying points that might be confusing.

"She's the one who explains everything to me," he said. "She knows a lot of stuff about baseball. ... Everything she tells me is true."

Not that it always brings comfort.

"I told him in the eight times they've set a strike date, there's always been a work stoppage," she said. "So even though things look more positive because they're actually sitting down and talking and trying to get things done, whether it lasts a day, a month or a season, we just won't know."

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