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A Father's Pride

June 13, 2007
By Ken Denlinger 

Leading off this unique baseball Father’s Day celebration, appropriately, is Genesis. She was the first of the Mora quintuplets to be lifted out of Gisel’s body during a cesarean section on July 28, 2001. In order, Genesis, Christian and Rebekah were born at 7:10 a.m.; Matthew and Jada followed two minutes later.

Melvin had known for some time that there would be five -- and he had the usual father’s concern, multiplied of course.

“How are you going to take care of them?” he said, remembering that at the time he was not making all that much money, having arrived in Baltimore from the Mets with so-so major league credentials in the Mike Bordick trade exactly a year earlier. “After that, you hope they’re all healthy.”

They are, blossoming together while also developing self-reliance in upscale Fallston. And they are just old enough to sort of understand what “Papi” does for a living and young enough not to be consumed by it. They are grateful for the enormous brick house they live in, the pool, the light green wrap-around sofa that allows all of them to watch cartoons together and the yard big enough for their ever-expanding swing set.

“He plays baseball and stuff,” Genesis said.

But that’s not the game that impresses them.

“He plays hide and seek,” said Jada, currently missing several front teeth. “He hides in the closet downstairs.”

Melvin also plays hopscotch with Rebekah, who is not always focused on the competition.

“I like writing chalk on the ground,” she said.

And so on. The two boys were a bit more reserved during each of their chats, wary of the Pop Tart-sized gray thing that the stranger, also lying on the floor, said would make it easier for him to remember what they had said. Christian volunteered that he bats right-handed, like his father; Matthew said he likes to pitch.

Somewhere in baseball’s long history, another player may have similarly hit the kid lottery. But there’s more to Melvin as a father. A stepdaughter, Tatiana, turned 10 in February. She was not quite a year old when her mother met Melvin and about 4 when they married.  “I don’t really see my real dad anymore,” Tatiana said. “[Melvin] is dad. He’s really fun, but at times he can be firm. He’s just a really great dad.”

Every father has a father and Melvin, like Tatiana, also has someone he holds in immense, father-like esteem. That’s because Melvin, at about the same age as the quints, lost his father Jose. Horrified, he saw Jose, shot in the street just outside their home in a small Venezuelan town, stagger up the steps, break through a door and make it to the couch where he died.

“I was next to him [when he died],” Melvin said, “with my sister and older brother.”

***

Early in 2001, Melvin and Gisel were preparing for twins. That’s what her fertility doctor had predicted. Her family in New York and his in Venezuela were also excited.

Melvin and Gisel had met in 1997 in New Orleans, where Melvin was playing the outfield and third base for the Houston Astros’ Triple-A affiliate. She was working for an agent in New York and had been dispatched to New Orleans to tidy up some endorsement contracts for several players, two of whom were rooming with Melvin. It was not love at first sight.

“We were very opinionated, kind of clashed,” she said. “We didn’t see each other for about a year and a half.”

They resumed contact in New York some three years later after Melvin had been signed to a minor league contract by the Mets and later made the big club. Jim Duquette, the Orioles’ vice president of baseball operations, had been Houston’s farm director in ’97 and was the Mets’ farm director when Melvin joined the organization.

Part of why Duquette pushed for Melvin was his obvious zest to succeed. He had gone to Taiwan early in ’98 to jumpstart his career when, Duquette said, “Not too many guys were willing to go over there.” At first in New York, Melvin and Gisel double-dated quite a lot. But it usually was Melvin with a friend of Gisel’s and Gisel with a friend of Melvin’s. They became closer, but still as friends, Gisel resisting any long-term relationship because of the one that had ended in divorce.

The previous marriage, she said, “was very ugly, a lot of domestic violence. I went through a lot of therapy … But Melvin’s such a positive person.”

Gradually, they fell in love and were married just before the All-Star break in 2000, when Melvin was still with the Mets. 

Although he played 79 games for the Mets, Melvin’s baseball still was far from brilliant when he was traded, along with three minor leaguers, for Bordick later in 2000.

“[Then-Mets manager] Bobby Valentine was one of the few who thought he’d be an everyday player,” Duquette said.

Melvin hit .291 in 199 at-bats for the O’s in 2000, but struck out nearly twice as often as he walked. So he was hardly basking in confidence when Gisel became pregnant and they started preparing for twins. Suddenly one morning, however, the twins seemed lost.

“I woke up in a pool of blood,” she said, “and thought I’d miscarried. But they told me [I was carrying five fetuses instead of two] and that was the reason for so much blood. I was relieved. I know it sounds kind of weird, but to have five or none I definitely wanted to keep my five.” 

Because the quints were born more than two months premature, with Christian the largest at just an ounce over two pounds, they did not go home from the hospital until October. That’s when Melvin and Gisel had a major quarrel.

“Melvin said he was going to play winter ball,” she said. “I was upset. People assume that because he was in the majors he was making a lot of money. Melvin was not. We felt we couldn’t afford to hire a nanny. His family was in Venezuela; mine was in New York.”

Melvin went off to Venezuela for winter ball.

“In the beginning of January,” she said, “I called him, completely freaked out. Our bank account was at zero. He hadn’t been paid part of his salary in winter ball yet. He had me fly down to Venezuela and gave me $10,000 in cash.”

***

Money no longer is a serious concern, although Melvin, recalling a youth spent in poverty, remains frugal. Their house is elegant but homey. A statue of a right-handed batter about three feet tall that Gisel found in Fort Lauderdale stands among flowers off to one side, the only clue that the house was built on a ballplayer’s wages.

Tatiana has her own room; so does Jada. The other girls share a room, as do the boys. Special toys, such as small go-karts, tend to be purchased in twos, so the quints learn to share. Gisel has several inspirational verses sprinkled about the living area. Such as:

“Live with Passion,

Laugh out Loud,

Love Deeply.”

And:

“The essence of life is to care,

The secret of life is to dare,

The adventure of life is to learn,

The challenge of life is to change,

The joy of life is to love.”

Melvin is a hands-on father. At 6:45 a.m. on school days when he is home, Melvin arises, makes breakfast for Tatiana, packs her lunch and drives her to school. When he returns, he does the same thing for the quints.


Off days are pleasantly hectic. On a recent Saturday before an O’s night game at Camden Yards, he was on a baseball field with the boys at 9 a.m. At 10, he was at Tatiana’s game; at 11:30, he was with the other girls.

Except for something obvious, like Jada’s missing teeth, even friends find it difficult to distinguish each of the quints, especially because Gisel tends to dress the girls and boys in similar outfits. She and Melvin have no problems with identity.

“Genesis resembles Melvin and Melvin’s sister in the face,” Gisel said. “Jada is very athletic, very social, always smiling. Rebekah has what I call ‘sad puppy-dog eyes to daddy.’ She kind of eats him up, so he kind of favors her sometimes. Christian is a lot bigger than Matthew. He is everything baseball. He’s got daddy’s body from the neck down, has his batting stance. But what Christian has in size, Matthew has in personality.” 

Tatiana goes to private school. Melvin and Gisel thought about that for the quints, but decided against it and enrolled them in a public school that has eight kindergarten classrooms. So there was one for each Mora.

“They tend to protect each other,” Melvin said. “We want them to make different friends, have different experiences.”

It went so well in kindergarten, Gisel said, that they will go their separate ways in first grade. The elementary school has eight classrooms for each grade until third grade. It then drops to six.

Gisel refuses to hire a nanny, but someone helps with the cleaning and the cooking.

“I don’t want anybody else raising my kids,” she said, her voice firm. “I’ve worked since I was 15 years old. I went from that to being a full-time mom. I couldn’t imagine not keeping occupied, keeping busy.”

Melvin seems to enjoy the quints more the older they get.

“When they’re little, they make me worry more,” he said. “I didn’t know what they want. I just know they eat every three or four hours. Incubator to kindergarten -- makes you cry, makes you sad, makes you laugh, lot of emotions. You have to have it to feel it.”

About his father, Melvin said: “I don’t remember too much about him. He was old-school, worked hard. We were never hungry; he always found something. [But] I never saw a park or fireworks, never. I remember when he beat me, couple of times.”

Melvin said the man who murdered his father was actually looking for his uncle, Jose’s brother.

“He was drunk,” Melvin said. “I think (he and Jose’s brother) had a fight. He couldn’t find my uncle. My father did nothing to him. He said, ‘You are looking for my brother.’ ”

A few years later, when he was about 9, Melvin met Walter Rodriguez. He was sort of a little league coach and he pushed Melvin toward baseball and away from soccer because a young Venezuelan could earn more as a professional, though rarely more than a $5,000 signing bonus. 

“He told me about life, about bad things, bad places,” Melvin said. “When I was sick, congestion in my lung and almost died, he came with a lot of medicine. He never asked for anything. He wanted me in the big leagues because that was his dream [as a kid]. When I make the big leagues, he was crying.

“I call him my dad.”

Melvin has been trying to get Walter a passport, so he can see Melvin play a major league game.

Because there was such a lack of affection from his father, Melvin may well dote more than usual on his children.

“Melvin is very competitive,” Gisel said. “He wants to be the best athlete. But what’s the point in being such a great athlete when baseball is all said and done and his kids would say: ‘My dad wasn’t there for this, my dad didn’t take part in that?’ That’s what he really takes pride in.”  

Photos by: Sabina Moran/PressBox
 
Issue 2.24: June 14, 2007