Mora all smiles

The Baltimore Sun

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Melvin Mora arrived at Fort Lauderdale Stadium last week, and in what has become his annual rite of spring, predicted his numbers for the coming season.

".340, 20-plus and 100-plus, and help the team win," Mora said of his projected batting average and home run and RBI totals, a wide smile stretching across his face.

Mora, the emotional third baseman who has worn an Orioles jersey longer than any other current player, had plenty to digest this offseason. He had shoulder surgery in November, saw two of his closest friends (Ramon Hernandez and Daniel Cabrera) leave the organization and then learned of the multiyear contract extensions given to Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis while he heads into the final guaranteed year of his deal.

But his status was the furthest thing from his mind when he was approached by a reporter before the team's first workout last week. "Let's talk about Brian Roberts," Mora said on the day his longtime teammate agreed to a four-year, $40 million extension.

"Good for them," Mora said of Roberts and Markakis. "I'm happy for them because when you have those guys that have been for the organization for so long and you see the organization take care of them, that's one thing you have to appreciate. The organization showed appreciation for what they have done.

"It's one at a time. Now, it's Nick. Tomorrow, it's Brian. Then next is Aubrey Huff. Maybe I'm last or maybe I'm not. But I cannot get mad. The only thing I can do is thank the Orioles organization. So many great things happened to me in this organization, and to my family, too. Plus, it's not my decision. It's the general manager's. I think he'll come out with something good for the team."

Mora, 37, will make $9 million in his 10th, and possibly last, season with the club. His contract includes an $8 million club option for 2010. Orioles president Andy MacPhail said this month that he's willing to entertain contract talks with Mora and Huff to see whether "you have an opportunity to do something that makes sense for the player and your franchise."

Mora, who makes his year-round home in Fallston, said he wants to be an Oriole for the rest of his career and he feels that he still has "four or five" good years left.

"I would love to be here for the rest of my career, but that's not my decision," Mora said. "It's Andy MacPhail's decision, and whenever he is ready to talk, we'll be ready to talk."

His attitude and demeanor were in stark contrast to what they were the last time his contract was an issue. During spring training in 2006, when he was in his final season before free agency, Mora grew tired and testy about his contract status, clearly bothered and distracted by the situation. He vowed that won't be the case this year and said he feels no pressure to produce to make the Orioles' decision easier.

"After my babies came out of the hospital from the incubator, there is no pressure that compares to that," said Mora, whose wife, Gisel, gave birth to quintuplets in 2001. "There's nothing that bothers me. It's just another year. I'll play relaxed and do what I need to do."

In what can be characterized only as good news for the Orioles, Mora hasn't stopped smiling since he arrived here. He has spent time with some of the team's younger players and worked regularly with new shortstop Cesar Izturis. The two will leave the Orioles on March 1 to join the Venezuelan World Baseball Classic team in Lakeland, Fla.

It has been a welcome sight for Orioles manager Dave Trembley, who called Mora a couple of days before spring training began to gauge his mood and remind him that he'll be counted on as one of the team leaders.

"The guy looks in great shape to me," Trembley said. "After the All-Star break last year when he got his shoulder taken care of, he really finished the season well. I would expect Melvin to have a real good spring and have a big year. He solidifies the direction that we're going. I know Melvin wants to win."

Mora, a career .280 hitter, batted .285 last season with 23 home runs and 104 RBIs. It was his best average since he hit .340 in 2004, his highest home run total since 2005 (27), and his most RBIs since 2004 (104).

Most of his production came after the All-Star break after Mora got a cortisone shot in his ailing right shoulder. After the break, Mora hit .376 with 12 homers and 56 RBIs.

This offseason, he had a small arthritic section of his distal clavicle, part of the AC joint, removed from his right shoulder and came to camp with a clean bill of health.

Asked how he feels, Mora smiled and said, "Oh, you'll see."

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