Former Oriole Melvin Mora becomes a U.S. citizen in Baltimore. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
Melvin Mora's desire to become a U.S. citizen was years in the making, born when the former Orioles third baseman established permanent residency in the Baltimore area shortly after the birth of his quintuplets 16 years ago. But as his children grew older, they started the push for him to go through the naturalization process.
All five – born to national attention at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2001 – became dual citizens about four years ago, when Mora petitioned for them to also become citizens of his native Venezuela. And much like their father wanted them to have dual citizenship years ago, they soon wanted the same for him.
On Wednesday afternoon, the 45-year-old Mora was among 60 candidates representing 31 different countries who completed the naturalization process and became U.S. citizens at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Baltimore Field Office.
Mora, a two-time All-Star with the Orioles who was inducted into the franchise's Hall of Fame two years ago, spent 10 of his 13 big league seasons with Baltimore, hitting .280/.355/.438 with them from 2000 to 2009. He came to the United States as a teenager to pursue his big league dreams, and now he has U.S.-Venezuelan dual citizenship.
"I was shaking, but I feel more relaxed [now]," Mora said after the ceremony. "I finally did it. This is very special for me and my family. I was so nervous going through this. I was kind of like, 'What am I doing?' I'm in the Orioles Hall of Fame and now I'm shaking. It's something different, so I didn't expect that, especially when you see [people from] 30-some countries doing the same thing. It's pretty nice."
On most days, the USCIS Baltimore Field Office holds two naturalization ceremonies, and last year nearly 20,000 people became U.S. citizens in Maryland through the field office. This year, about 10,000 have been naturalized.
Candidates for citizenship must hold legal residence in the U.S. for at least five years before applying and must pass a thorough review process. They also must show mastery of U.S. history and government while being proficient in English.
Mora's wife Gisel, who was raised by Puerto Rican parents in Brooklyn, had been encouraging him to get his citizenship since they were married 17 years ago. And Mora's children played a role in helping their father through the naturalization process. His daughter Genesis would quiz him on U.S. history. Rebekah preached how important it was for their father to also have dual citizenship.
"As his spouse, it's about just educating him on the fact that, yes, he's a community person, he loves his fans and he loves to give back, educating him on the importance of his role as a U.S. citizen," Gisel said. "My children, Rebekah in particular … she started teaching him that just like he applied for their Venezuelan citizenship when they were 11 or 12, it was important for her to be an American citizen so they could all identify together as Venezuelan-American citizens."
During the ceremony, three of Mora's children – Rebekah, Genesis and Matthew -- led the group of new citizens in the pledge of allegiance. As Mora watched, he fought back tears.
"Don't get me crying again," Mora said he told himself. "They did good. That's special. They gave me a special celebration, an honor, to bring my kids up. They helped me a lot to learn about United States history. … [Genesis] would help me all the time, ask me a question about the United States."
After the ceremony was completed, Mora and his wife shared a long embrace as his children each took turns congratulating their father.
"This kind of brings it all home because he gets to be more than just the baseball player who everybody in the U.S. loves," Gisel said. "He becomes a U.S. citizen like you and I, and our voices matter. … I know the first thing we're going to do is we're going to go register to vote."
Mora is still active in his native Venezuela, a country that has dealt with violence for years. Mora is trying to do his part to keep kids in his hometown of Valencia off the streets and out of trouble. Mora has run a school there for the past 17 years that teaches 200 kids and he also runs a baseball academy there that just produced its first two professional signings in its fifth year of existence.
"The hardest part was that, because he is so prideful of his homeland," Gisel said. "He loves his homeland. To him, it was almost like parting with that. And it was teaching him that it's not parting, it's merging the two together and both histories."
But there was no question Mora wanted to remain in Baltimore beyond his playing years and raise his family in Maryland.
"Venezuela is my heart," Mora said. "I love my country. My mama is still living there and we are able to go back and forth, but there are a lot of things going on there right now. But we are going to get through that situation because it is a beautiful country. We have everything over there. But I'm happy to be here, I'm happy to be in the United States, I'm happy to see my kids born and grow up here."
Mora still calls Harford County home, and he said the way Orioles fans universally embraced him over his career played a major role in wanting to stay in the area.
"The fans helped me a lot in my career in Baltimore," Mora said. "So I wanted to stay and live here because these were the greatest fans I've ever played in front of. They supported me, especially when you have to replace a player like Cal Ripken Jr., and they supported me as a third baseman. I told my wife, 'I'll leave money on the table because I want to stay in Baltimore.' All the great people at Camden Yards and working with the Orioles, they made my life easy and for my kids, so why shouldn't I stay here?"
Mora has remained close to the Orioles organization. He threw out the first pitch before a game at Camden Yards in 2014 and was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2015. He will be at a Bowie Baysox game in July as part of a Special Olympics night there. Mora mentioned he'd like to join the organization in a larger role eventually, once his children head off to college. Now, he's busy attending their sporting events.
"We still care about the Orioles and we still have a lot of friends there in the front office, and they are tremendous with our family," Mora said. "And sometimes I go to visit them and we're looking forward to doing something big with the Orioles in the future."
He often receives invitations back to the ballpark and usually accepts, but there's one difficult part of coming back to Camden Yards.
"The only thing bad about the fans is that they make me cry so much," Mora said. "Every time I go to Camden Yards and they see me walking through the tunnel, I see all the same friends who have been supporting me for a long time and they give me a big hug and say, 'Oh my God, we miss you so much.'
"I say, 'I don't want to go back because I don't want to cry all the time,'" he said with a smile. "This is special. The way they treat me in the ballpark is so special. You have to feel it to know what I'm talking about. It's hard to describe. That's one of the biggest reasons I stayed in the Baltimore area."