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MORA'S ABUNDANCE OF FATHERLY JOY

THE BALTIMORE SUN

They compete in Little League, play computer games and swap their baby teeth at bedtime for crisp $1 bills.

Genesis plays a mean third base. Matthew wants to be a veterinarian. Christian likes sushi. Jada is a budding gymnast. And Rebekah has a crush on the Orioles' Brian Roberts.

The Mora quintuplets turn 8 this summer.

On July 28, 2001, Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora became a biological father for the first time. Also the second, third, fourth and fifth. When they finally wheeled Gisel Mora out of surgery, exhausted, she had mothered an entire infield.

The quints were born 10 weeks premature; none of them weighed more than 2 1/2 pounds. But they have blossomed into healthy, active youngsters with private dreams and distinct personas.

"They are growing up fast," Mora said of his brood. Then he rolled his eyes. "I could write a book," he said.

The quints have reached the age where they'll weigh in on the play of their bigleague dad. If Mora strikes out, for instance, Genesis greets him at breakfast the next morning with, "Keep your eye on the ball, Papi."

"You're right," he'll say.

An active brood

Rising third-graders, they attend Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston and keep their mother on the run. All five take piano lessons. Four play baseball. Two do gymnastics. Softball claims a couple more. And that's just in the spring.

The pace might drive some parents batty. Not the Moras.

"Motherhood is neat," said Gisel Mora, 34. "I thought it would be non-manageable, but it so not is. Every day, I'm taken aback by the things they do and say."

As she spoke, Genesis, the eldest of the five, sidled up to her mom and, out of the blue, declared, "You have to be in your 30s to be a mom."

Gisel Mora looked startled, then smiled approvingly.

"You keep thinking like that," she told Genesis.

Last month, on Mother's Day, each of the kids gave Gisel a hand-drawn card. She oohed and aahed. They beamed and giggled.

Today, the Mora clan motors up to Philadelphia to watch the Orioles-Phillies game and celebrate Father's Day with Papi. That the youngsters are hale and hearty is his gift, Melvin said:

"Every day is Father's Day for me."

' How many babies?'

Gisel was 27 when the quints were born at Johns Hopkins Hospital during Melvin's first full year as an Oriole. Spring training was when the Moras learned that the pregnancy, helped by fertility drugs, was a special one.

"One morning I woke up lying in a pool of blood," said Gisel, then seven weeks along. "I was hysterical; Melvin started crying. At the doctor's office, once I was settled, he returned to the car and prayed for half an hour."

When Melvin finally set foot inside, he found everyone smiling - including the nurse, who congratulated him. Five times.

"Melvin's face was like a Kodak moment," Gisel said.

"How many babies?" he kept asking. His reaction was understandable.

"I checked my wallet to see if I had enough money," he said.

For Gisel, the next few months were rife with episodes of bleeding and bed rest and five counts of premature labor. She had been hospitalized for several weeks when the moment came. The Orioles were in California.

"I couldn't have been farther away," Melvin said. At 3:30 a.m., he rushed to the airport and caught a flight but did not arrive until after the babies were born.

Trusted doctor suddenly gone

The quints' cesarean delivery went smoothly under the care of Dr. David Nagey, an expert in high-risk pregnancies.

"I remember focusing on [Nagey's] face the whole time," Gisel said. "He made me feel at ease. I always envisioned keeping him up to date on how the children were doing."

That hope was short-lived. Exactly nine months later, Nagey, 51, died of a heart attack while running in a road race.

"I still miss him," Gisel said.

For more than a year, the quints' own health was uncertain. Each required separate formulas and took six medications a day until they got stronger. For 2 1/2 years, the Moras employed a nanny to help with their care.

"My parents helped as well, when [the kids] were younger," said Gisel, who was raised in New York City.

And now? Fifteen times a year, the whole lot will pile into mom's Mercedes minivan, take in a game at Camden Yards and then enjoy a family dinner at a Japanese steakhouse downtown.

"They are growing up, but they are still my babies," Melvin said.

Christian protested.

"I'm not a baby, I'm a boy," he said.

"Doesn't matter," Melvin said. "When you are 45, you'll still be my baby."

Much to Gisel's chagrin, the kids' old stroller, a five-seater, is still taking up space in the garage.

"Melvin won't give it up," she said.

Their family of eight includes 11-year-old Tatiana, Gisel's daughter by a previous marriage. Melvin chips in with the kids' care when he can. During Orioles homestands, he rises at 6:30 a.m. (after four hours' sleep), drives Tatiana to school and returns to pick up the quints. Then it's home to nap before he heads to the ballpark at 2:30.

"A day in the life of the Moras is not chaos," said Lilly Burgos, Gisel's cousin in Brooklyn, N.Y., who visits them often. "Gisel is very organized and consistent with the children. I told her she's 'Supermom' and that I would get her a big red cape with a gold 'G' on it.

"When Melvin is around, his focus is his kids. Both [parents] believe in talking with their children, not at them. They want to know what they think, how they feel. Melvin plays Pat-a-cake with the girls and rides all of them around the yard on their ATV. He makes mean breakfasts for them, too - Venezuelan corn muffins from scratch, French toast, eggs, bacon and sausage. He's a good cook and those kids are big eaters."

Sometimes, before home games, Melvin takes the two boys to the clubhouse just to look and listen. Unruly, they are not.

"I tell Matthew and Christian to sit at my locker while I'm in the shower," Melvin said. "When I leave, the players can't believe that the boys don't get up."

Road trips put a strain on family ties.

"We're such a tight unit that [the children] definitely show signs of his absence," Gisel said. "At 3, Rebekah went through a long stretch where she'd sit in her high chair, mope and not get out. The pediatrician said she missed her father. Now we keep pictures of Melvin around the house and a calendar on which the kids can mark off the days until he returns.

"Now, when Melvin says 'I'm leaving,' they ask, 'How many days?' "

Making sacrifices has become a routine for both parents. Money is no issue; Mora, 37, will earn $9 million this year. Still, the children attend public school, where their folks insist they be placed in separate classrooms.

"We want them to be able to speak for themselves," Gisel said.

The Moras remain the talk of their town.

"At school functions, I've had people say, 'Six kids? Better you than me,' or 'If I were you, I think I'd kill myself,' " Gisel said. And she thought, That's why God gave them to me and not you.

"I've heard those comments, too," Angela Wigginton said. She and husband Ty, an Orioles infielder, have three youngsters, ages 4, 2 and 1.

"God gives you exactly what you can handle, though I cannot imagine having six," she said. "You haven't time to think about the challenges. If I sat down for a second, I don't know if I'd get up. So the kids and I stay busy and count the days until daddy gets home - knowing that, come October, he'll be here to play catch and ride bikes."

A career put in perspective

In the Orioles' clubhouse, Mora's space is decorated with pictures of the family, including two group shots of the quints taped to the top of his locker. A similar photo remains in his suitcase.

"I take the picture everywhere and put it in my [hotel] room," he said.

His troupe helps him keep the game in perspective, Mora said.

"The good thing about having kids is that no matter what happens in baseball, I'll come home and flop on the floor and everyone jumps on top of me. That makes you forget everything," he said. "Without that, I would be the most miserable person in the world."

Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.

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