- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

BALTIMORE — Melvin Mora started this season as a 31-year-old utility player with a .249 average over three-plus major league seasons. Yesterday Mora, the American League’s leading hitter with a .361 average, was named as Baltimore’s only representative in the July 15 All-Star Game in Chicago.

“I’m excited,” said Mora, who has found a home in left field after playing five positions last season. “Being an All-Star is something that everyone looks for. When I’ll be in Chicago, I’ll be more excited to be with all those guys. I need seven tickets [for his wife Gisel, their 23-month-old quintuplets and older sister Tatiana]. I hope everyone can come with me.”

Although teammates Jeff Conine, Tony Batista and Jay Gibbons are all on pace for 100 RBI and Sidney Ponson is 11-5 with a 3.85 ERA, only Mora was chosen. In fact, Ponson said he would decline if offered a spot in the event of an injury withdrawal because he should have been selected yesterday. It’s the first time the Orioles have had just one All-Star in three straight years since their first three seasons in Baltimore (1954-1956).

“Melvin certainly deserves to be on the All-Star team,” Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. “This year for the first time since I’ve been here, we probably had four or five guys who could legitimately claim to be on the team. But there are a lot of good players in the league having good years. Melvin was a .249 lifetime hitter, but I don’t think what he’s doing is out of the ordinary. He’s a tremendous athlete and a tremendous hitter. A lot of guys will get hot and get their average up, but Melvin has maintained it for 3 months, so I think what we’re seeing is legitimate.”

Mora said he worked especially hard this offseason, changing his stance to take better advantage of all fields and picking up batting tips from Philadelphia’s Bobby Abreu and Magglio Ordonez of the White Sox.

“I always believed in myself,” Mora said. “I didn’t care what other people think. [Playing multiple positions] might hurt me because I might be more relaxed playing one position, but I don’t complain because it might make my career go longer.”

Mora is making plans to get to Chicago, but some of baseball’s biggest stars aren’t All-Stars this year — Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez all missed the cut.

Instead, Hideki Matsui, Albert Pujols and Carlos Delgado were among the new faces picked by fans.

Twenty-nine of the 63 players were first-time All-Stars, including 40-year-old pitcher Jamie Moyer. It was the most first-timers since 30 were chosen for the 1988 game in Cincinnati.

Also among the first-timers were Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Hank Blalock, Mark Mulder and Vernon Wells.

The All-Star Game has a new look this year following last year’s messy 7-7, 11-inning tie in Milwaukee. For the first time, the league that wins the game will be awarded home-field advantage in the World Series, a change commissioner Bud Selig hopes will return competition to an event that has become more of a showcase than a game.

Players, managers and coaches had a say in the teams for the first time since 1969, and rosters were expanded from 30 to 32 per league.

Seven players were picked for their first All-Star starts, including Marcus Giles, Troy Glaus, Javy Lopez and Edgar Renteria.

Several injured big-name players won’t be at the game — Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Mike Piazza, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman.

Also not selected were slumping stars Derek Jeter, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and reigning AL MVP Miguel Tejada.

Elected to start in the AL were Delgado at first, Alfonso Soriano at second, Alex Rodiguez at shortstop, Glaus at third, Jorge Posada at catcher, Edgar Martinez at designated hitter and Ichiro Suzuki, Manny Ramirez and Matsui in the outfield.

NL starters are Todd Helton at first, Giles at second, Renteria at shortstop, Scott Rolen at third, Lopez at catcher and Pujols, Bonds and Sheffield in the outfield. Bonds will be going to his 12th All-Star Game, his 10th as an elected starter.

Making the NL team as reserves in the new player vote were Jim Edmonds, Rafael Furcal, Andruw Jones, Paul Lo Duca, Mike Lowell, Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro and Preston Wilson.

Kevin Brown, Shawn Chacon, Prior, Woody Williams and Jason Schmidt were elected as starting pitchers, and John Smoltz, Eric Gagne and Billy Wagner were elected as relievers.

AL players elected reserves were Garret Anderson, Hank Blalock, Bret Boone, Nomar Garciaparra, Ramon Hernandez, Mora, Mike Sweeney and Wells.

Esteban Loaiza, Roy Halladay, Moyer, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito were elected as AL starting pitchers, and Brendan Donnelly, Keith Foulke and Eddie Guardado were elected as relievers.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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