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Mora's past paved path
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07/14/2003  8:12 PM ET 
Mora's past paved path
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Versatile Melvin Mora has been a solid fielder for the Orioles this season. (Gail Burton/AP)
CHICAGO -- Venezuela has been hard on Baltimore Orioles All-Star left fielder Melvin Mora. In most instances, he wouldn't have it any other way.

Recovering from a .233 performance last season to fashion a .349 average that has him second in the American League in hitting wasn't as tough as growing up playing in Venezuela, where youngsters were clawing for their big chance.

Playing for the New York Mets in 2000 and dealing with the hype of the Subway Series wasn't as stressful as playing Winter Ball in Venezuela, where rabid fans don't want to hear that it's the offseason for Major Leaguers.

2003 All-Star Game

2003 All-Star Game information >

Mora, a 31-year-old infielder and outfielder who was born in Aqua Negra, Venezuela, credits his home country in many ways. For one, it has helped him develop the toughness that has taken him from someone seemingly destined to be a career minor leaguer to a player who will be making his first career All-Star appearance on Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Field.

"I can't describe it. You need to go to Venezuela and feel it," said Mora, who has 13 home runs and 45 RBIs.

Lately, Venezuela has offered some obstacles that even Mora can't crack.

This past winter, a strike in protest of the government brought the country to a standstill and forced the Winter Ball season to be halted soon after it began. The season was eventually canceled.

The fallout from the turbulent Venezuelan winter touched Mora again during this happy time.

Mora wanted his mother, Felipa, to come to the U.S. and share in the All-Star experience. She would have been part of a sizeable group. Mora and his wife, Gisel, have quintuplets who are almost 2 years old: boys Christian and Matthew David and girls Genesis, Rebekah and Jada Priscilla. Also joining Melvin and Gisel Mora in Chicago are Gisel's daughter, Tatiana, and her parents and brother.

Still, the Moras could have used another babysitter, if nothing else.

But tightened U.S. security and an iffy system in his home country nixed the idea of getting his mom a visa.

"Mom couldn't make it because it was too late to get a visa," said Mora, who was officially selected to the All-Star team on July 6. "It's hard. You need more stuff to show them. The security is hard. ... Sometimes you interview with the good people there, and it's alright. But sometimes you get people that don't like you, and that's it: 'Go home I don't want you to be here.' "

Still, Mora's heart is never far from home.

After spending his first seven pro seasons in the minors, Mora finally made it to the Mets in 1999 and batted .161 in 66 regular-season games. But he made a major statement by posting a .466 average in the NL Championship Series loss to Atlanta.

Mora maintained his confidence through the ups and downs of the next few seasons. He was traded to Baltimore in 2000, and his average dropped. Also, the quintuplets were born and Mora had various injuries.

But he kept plugging away and traded advice with fellow Venezuelan players, such as Chicago White Sox All-Star right fielder Magglio Ordonez, who offered support during the offseason. Mora gave Ordonez tips on defensive play, and Ordonez offered hitting advice.

"When you can play in New York, you can play anywhere else, and when you play Winter Ball in Venezuela, you can play anywhere else," Mora said. "The way we play in Venezuela is hard baseball. When you play in the United States, you're already relaxed."

Now Mora is putting it all together in a place where he is comfortable.

"Baltimore is a nice place to play -- anybody would want to be in Baltimore," he said. "It's a nice stadium, great fans. I love representing the Baltimore Orioles in the All-Star Game. The way they treat me in Baltimore makes me feel special."

However, it was playing in less comfortable atmospheres that has made him a player that Baltimore fans find special.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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