Mora recognized with Clemente nod
Third baseman's charity in Venezuela giving children an option
BALTIMORE -- Melvin Mora knows the impact that a charitable act can have.
In his home country of Venezuela, where daily necessities like food -- never mind modern baseball equipment -- are a rare commodity for the majority of the population, Mora has been distributing equipment and clothing to disadvantaged children for the past three years.
He has seen mothers burst into tears at his small contribution. He has seen men who are feared on the streets of Venezuela offer their services to protect him because somewhere along the line he gave their son a bat or a glove. Now, Mora is seeing his work catch the attention of Major League Baseball as he has been selected as the Orioles' nominee for the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award, presented by Chevrolet.
"I do a lot of stuff with the community, but I'm not thinking about it [in terms of an award]," Mora said. "Just to be nominated, I think, it's pretty good -- it can help involve more people and get them to do what I do."
The award recognizes the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team. It is named in honor of the former Pirates outfielder, whose spirit and goodwill will always be remembered. Clemente died in a plane crash while attempting to transport relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua on Dec. 31, 1972.
Fans can participate in the selection process of the overall winner of the award now through Oct. 5. The fan ballot winner will be tallied as one vote among those cast by a special selection panel of baseball dignitaries and media members. The panel includes MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, widow of the Pirates' Hall of Fame right fielder. The winner will be announced during the World Series. The 2007 recipient was the recently retired Craig Biggio of the Astros.
A member of the Orioles has received the honor four times in the award's 37-year history. Past winners include Brooks Robinson, Ken Singleton, Cal Ripken Jr. and Eric Davis.
"The only thing I would like to be recognized for is that I want all the players to see that so they can know that there's something out there they can do for the kids," Mora said. "In the world, there's a lot of kids that need us. That's the only way I can ask for recognition."
Along with the Melvin Mora foundation -- the organization through which Mora distributes the baseball equipment and other necessities to people in his country -- Mora and his wife, Gisele, sponsor Baltimore's Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital's annual golf tournament, with the outing being named in their honor the past three years. The tournament, held at Bulle Rock golf course in Havre de Grace, Md., is designed to raise proceeds to help support programs at the hospital. The Moras have helped raise more than $540,000 to purchase medical equipment, make capital improvements and purchase items such as toys and clothing for the hospital's patients.
Giving back to the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital is something that is very close to Mora as he was able to get a first-hand view of the work the hospital does when five of his own children -- quintuplets -- were born three months early. The majority of the patients in the hospital are from low-income households and 80 percent of the children are on Medicaid.
"My babies [were] there and I saw so many kids with no leg or [whose] parents abandoned them in the doorway and they don't have families," Mora said. "My babies have the opportunity to have family -- mother, father, grandma, sister, brother -- so those kids they don't have anything. They don't even have insurance to cover them.
And as for his contributions to Venezuela are concerned, Mora simply felt compelled to give back to the country that gave him so much.
"I do it because I come from a poor, poor, poor, poor country and a poor, poor, poor town and most of the people there don't play with bats," Mora said. "They play with sticks, they play with gloves made out of milk powder."
Every year since 2005, Mora packs up trucks full of bats, gloves and uniforms and sends them home to Venezuela where, with the help of his cousin, Allison Garcia, it is distributed to the children.
"In the beginning I was a little scared because I didn't know where the final destination of that equipment was going to be," Mora said. "Because I am able to give it to the people in person or through my cousin when I'm not there it makes me feel really good, because when I go back there in five months ... the kids are still using that equipment. ... We have maybe six or seven guys from that they're already playing in the Minor Leagues and that makes me feel good."
And in just three years, the third baseman has been able to see the immediate impact of his contributions -- and it has served as a reminder to why he began to the foundation in the first place.
"We have a lot of money in my country, but we don't know where the money goes," Mora added. "Most of the people don't pay attention to it. ... People talk about crime and the bad people on the street, but they don't take care of the kids. So the kids, when they grow up, they try to steal something, because they don't have anything to do.
"So that's why we try to motivate, and that makes me feel good. You can see that reaction on the face of the mother and brothers. ... Even the bad people are learning that lesson. One of those kids can kill 20 people -- what if I am one of those 20? You save one life in my country, you can save a lot of lives for someone else, because those kids have a role model."
Amanda Comak is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.