Mora buys Venezuela tract for baseball

Orioles third baseman hopes to involve Ripken in development of complex in homeland

December 06, 2006|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Sun reporter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora recently bought a 370-acre tract of land in his native Venezuela with the intention of improving baseball opportunities for his homeland.

He then asked for some advice from his former teammate and Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., who has built baseball complexes in Aberdeen and Myrtle Beach, S.C..

"Cal Ripken came out with the idea to think big," Mora said. "If you are going to do something, he goes, `Think big. Let's do something huge so your country will never forget about.' "

So Mora, with the assistance of Ripken, is attempting to embark on an ambitious project near Valencia, Venezuela, that would include a 20,000-to-25,000-seat stadium, several little league fields and two or more Major League Baseball academies.

Mora said the plan would be to own the complex and then rent out the academies to select clubs, including the Orioles. There is no timetable for construction or completion at this time.

Mora and Ripken met with Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan and vice president Jim Duquette here yesterday to discuss the concept -- and the Orioles' front office was intrigued.

"It's just really the ground floor of an idea at this point and they want to move ahead with Cal being part of it," Flanagan said. "It's something we agreed to talk further about in the near future."

Currently, the Orioles don't have an academy in Venezuela, but field a summer league team. They dedicate a manager, coaches and scouts, but are in the process of upgrading the operation, said John Stockstill, the club's assistant GM/director of professional and international scouting.

"That's one of the areas over the next six to 10 to 12 months we'll try to revamp," Stockstill said, "because there are a lot of players coming out of there."

There are obstacles in building a presence in Venezuela, Stockstill said, adding that it can be more expensive to develop and sign players from there than from the Dominican Republic, the only foreign country in which the Orioles have a formal facility.

Mora said clubs also are concerned about the political and economic strife in the South American country.

"We don't want any major league teams to put the money out and build the academy, because I know they are scared about the country," Mora said. "So we want to build it and rent it to major league teams."

Mora, who lives year-round in Harford County, said he's leaving Sunday for Venezuela to discuss potential government funding for stadium construction. His goal, he said, is for a future World Baseball Classic to be held at the new park.

"It's going to be a huge stadium, so the government is going to be involved," he said.

Ripken could eventually join Mora on a trip to Venezuela to promote the idea.

"I am excited that here is a guy that loves baseball and wants to take it back to the grass roots of baseball," Ripken said. "And Melvin is extremely popular in Venezuela, so he has a nice influence and he is directing his influence toward the kids ... I love his excitement and I look forward to helping him."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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