- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

BALTIMORE First there were the quintuplets, born last July, a joyous yet stunning turn in the life of Melvin Mora. Then in April, Mora's brother, Jose, was murdered in Venezuela. Mora left the Baltimore Orioles for a few days and returned home to mourn and comfort his distraught mother, Felipa.

While Mora was gone, another emotional wallop hit the family. David Nagey, the obstetrician who guided Gisel Mora through a scary, difficult pregnancy and eventually helped deliver five healthy though premature babies, died of a heart attack while running a 5K race to raise money for his son's school. The director of prenatal outreach at Johns Hopkins Hospital and an associate professor at Hopkins, Nagey was 51.

"My wife was crying," Mora said in heavily accented English, standing in front of his locker at Camden Yards. "He's the one who took care of the babies. He's the one who said, 'I'm gonna make sure all the babies are gonna be alive.'"

During Gisel's pregnancy, Mora said, they were told by doctors that some of the babies might not be born to ensure the healthy births of the others. This occasionally happens in multiple pregancies, if one or more of the babies' location in the uterus prevents healthy blood flow.

But, said Mora, Nagey insisted this would not happen.

"If not for him, all of the babies wouldn't be alive," Mora said. "It's hard, because they need more attention," he said. "They need both of us. They've been throwing up a lot. There's a lot going on. Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're bad.

"My daughter cries when I go on a road trip. She wants me to stay with them. She says we're supposed to be a family and be together. I say, yeah, but sometimes I need to go to work so I can give you food, so I can give you school, so I can give you everything. She's starting to understand, but it's hard for her."

Yet despite that and the deaths of Nagey and his brother, Mora has emerged as a valuable Oriole during the club's recent resurgence. A multi-position player (the term "utility man" has sort of a negative connotation), Mora in the last week has played center field, left field and second base. Yet his natural position is shortstop, which he played after coming from the New York Mets in a trade during the 2000 season.

After missing a couple of games to be in Venezuela, Mora has raised his average 33 points to .272. More important, he has a .447 on-base percentage, crucial for a leadoff hitter. Part of that comes from being hit by pitches a league-leading eight times. In Tuesday's comeback victory over Cleveland, Mora had big hits in the ninth, when the Orioles tied the game, and in the 10th, when they won it.

Manager Mike Hargrove compares Mora with Lenny Randle, a former Texas Rangers teammate known for his versatility. Randle also was known for punching out manager Frank Lucchesi, but Hargrove harbors no such concerns. Mora has handled the turbulence in his life "very well," Hargrove said.

"Certainly, I've never had to go through what he's gone through," Hargrove said. "I've never had five kids at once, and I've never had a brother killed. It's hard to comprehend what's gone through his mind the last year and a half. But he has a strong faith in God. Everybody needs that foundation. I'm not trying to get on a soapbox, but I believe that's why he's been able to do what he's done."

Basically, what Mora has done is his job whatever it happens to be that particular day.

"Most of the time, a utility player is a guy who has some part of his game that doesn't allow him to play every day," Hargrove said, "but in Melvin's case, his athletic ability allows him to play so many positions. He's so valuable in that role, we don't want him to settle in one spot. He's one of the most versatile players I've ever been around."

Mora said Hargrove is right; his faith has not been merely important but necessary. It is revealing that most of the quints have Biblical or religious names.

"When you read the Bible, when you have faith in God, when you've been through a lot of things, everything is easier for you," he said. "It gives you peace. It gives you power to control a situation. I thank God every day."

Mora, 30, prays often. He prayed when he learned during spring training of 2001 that Gisel, who was thought to be having twins, was instead carrying quints. He prayed harder after Gisel, who was 27 and had taken fertility drugs, was hospitalized by Nagey during her 23rd week and confined to bed for the duration of her pregnancy.

And he prayed even harder when it looked as if one or more of the babies might have to be aborted.

"To me, that's murder," he said. "We prayed to God, and we said, 'Listen, all five kids are gonna survive. They're gonna be alive. They're gonna fight.'"

Mora also prayed for his own strength. While having quintuplets is a blessed event times five, Mora could not help but consider the financial realities. His salary last year was $275,000, a pittance compared to the major league average of more than $2 million. He got a raise to $350,000 this season, but the costs are immeasurable. For example, even though Mora describes Gisel as a "fighter girl," she still needs someone at home to help. For a part-time nanny, he said, it costs about $800 a week.

Which is why his first reaction to hearing about the quints "was to check my wallet," he said. "How am I gonna take care of five kids? After that, I was happy."

Mora said he tells Gisel, "One day we're gonna be fine. We're fine now, but one day we're gonna be more relaxed. The babies are gonna be running around the house, and you're gonna be the greatest momma in the world. We're in a tough situation now, but one day it's gonna be easy for us."

Mora was with the team in Anaheim when Gisel gave birth, and it still bothers him that he missed it.

"Sometimes I think its not fair that it happened to her alone," he said. "I wanted to be with her. You want to be there and support your wife. But you can't do it because of baseball."

The babies were delivered by Caesarian section, and the planning and logistics that led up to it resembled a military operation.

"There was a lot of organization we had to do ahead of time so we wouldn't be tripping over each other," said Susan Aucott, medical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Johns Hopkins. "We had to plan which baby would go where, which baby would get which bed. We didn't have enough warmer units; there were only three and we needed five. I had lists of people to call. It took a lot of advance planning to be ready."

And when it happened, it was sudden. When Gisel's contractions did not respond to medication, she was quickly rushed in for surgery.

"We didn't have a lot of notice," Aucott said. "But we got everything pulled together and it went very smoothly. But it was a little confusing."

Some of the babies required extended hospital stays due to feeding complications, and tubes remain in their stomachs. Each weighed less than three pounds at birth, but Mora said all are now in the 14- to 16-pound range. They are growing in other ways, as well.

"Everybody has a different personality," Mora said. "One baby's happy, another gets mad, another one just wants a lot of attention. They're great kids. They sleep good. They sleep all night. Sometimes we have to wake them up so they can eat."

But tragedy revisited Mora, whose father was murdered when he was 7, last month. Mora's brother, Jose, was the victim of an apparent contract killing after getting into a fight. Jose Mora, one of five brothers (Mora said he was 30 or 31 years old), was shot twice and killed, and his assailant was paid $300, Mora said. Mora, who has four sisters, said the identity of the killer is known, but he remains at large.

"In Venezuela, we have our own justice," he said. "It's a crazy world over there. We don't respect red lights, green lights. They don't respect nothing. You kill somebody, you go free on the street. If I kill you and there's no witness, I don't go to jail. They go to jail today and they're out tomorrow. That's Venezuela."

As far as taking matters into his own hands, Mora said that is not an option.

"I told my friend, I don't want to do nothing," he said. "I want to leave it in God's hands.

"What can I do? You want him to go kill the rest of my family? Are you gonna protect me 24 hours? What can I do?"

Pretty much what he is doing now. On the field, Mora said, "I don't worry about nothing. I just try to do the best I can. I know the team needs me."


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