- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

JUPITER, Fla. As much as Melvin Mora tried to keep his mind on baseball last year, he just couldn't. He was more concerned about his family.
Mora's attention was certainly understandable considering that his wife, Gisel, gave birth to quintuplets July 28. Bats, balls and helmets were replaced by diapers, formula and the concerns of fatherhood.
Fans who didn't know the situation might have thought Mora was simply going through a slump the second half of the season. The owner of a .297 batting average June 29, Mora hit a mere .196 over his final 59 games, all the while shuttling back and forth between center field and shortstop two of the most demanding positions.
The Orioles' utility man was spending mornings at Johns Hopkins Hospital tending to his wife and five children (born three months prematurely), afternoons and evenings at Camden Yards and his nights back at the hospital.
"Last year, when all this was going on with my babies, I didn't care [about baseball]," Mora said. "I wasn't concentrating on what I needed to do on the field."
With all five infants and Gisel in good health now, Mora was looking forward to getting back to baseball this spring. That's when his own health became an issue. He broke his left ring finger while playing winter ball in Venezuela, putting him out for most of spring training.
Six days after Mora's injury was diagnosed, the Orioles traded for Chicago White Sox center fielder Chris Singleton. Mora, Baltimore's starting center fielder most of last season, now found himself in a utility role.
"That is probably his best position because he can play the heck out of shortstop, he can play the heck out of center field, he can play second base, he can play third base, he can play both corner positions," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He's a very valuable commodity."
Hargrove said Mora likely will play three to five games a week, spelling Singleton, Marty Cordova and Jay Gibbons in the outfield and Mike Bordick, Jerry Hairston and Tony Batista in the infield.
"Mike Hargrove can count on me," Mora said. "If something happens at shortstop, I'm going to be there. I can play naturally at that position. And I can play naturally in center field, too. I'm just going to continue to do my job."
Before he could do that, Mora had to get himself back in shape. His finger fully healed about two weeks ago, and he was due to begin playing in exhibition games, but a strained calf muscle pushed back his debut another week or so.
"It was frustrating," he said. "But now I'm fine."
Last night, Mora finally made his spring training debut. He pinch-ran for shortstop Mike Bordick in the sixth inning of the Orioles' game against the Montreal Expos, then lined a single up the middle on the first pitch he saw in the eighth.
And for the first time in a long time, his mind was on baseball.
"This year I'm more relaxed," he said. "My babies are here. Now I can continue to do what I've been doing all my life play baseball."
Notes Jason Johnson and Sidney Ponson combined to shut down the Expos in Baltimore's 5-2 victory last night.
Johnson, slated to be the Orioles' No. 2 starting pitcher, allowed two hits in four innings, did not walk a batter and struck out five. Ponson, expected to follow Johnson in the rotation, pitched five innings in relief, allowing two runs in the ninth.
Baltimore scored three runs in the top of the first on a single by Bordick, a groundout by Cordova and a double by Batista.


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