FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -The locker is traditionally reserved for the Baltimore Orioles player with the most tenure and esteem. It is far left in a row of the team's most prominent veterans, is twice as wide as the others and offers its bearer full control over the only television in the clubhouse.
Cal Ripken used it, Jeff Conine had it, and now it belongs to Melvin Mora, who represents stability for a franchise in the midst of a major youth movement.
Mora has been with Baltimore since 2000, when he came from the New York Mets in one of the shrewdest deals the Orioles ever completed. Mora came with three players for Mike Bordick in a swap completed just before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Although the other three guys never made much of a contribution, Bordick returned in 2001 as a free agent and the Orioles have thus far gotten 1,060 hits, 127 homers and 510 RBIs from Mora, a two-time All-Star at third base. His broad smile and playful manner have been a plus, too.
``Melvin's always been a good teammate and a pleasant guy to work with and be around,'' hitting coach Terry Crowley said. ``Years ago when he came from the Mets we did a lot of work every day. To his credit, he turned himself into a real good everyday ballplayer.''
Mora's numbers have declined over the past few seasons, but he believes this will be a big year for him. He had several excellent sessions with his original hitting coach in Venezuela during the offseason, and contends that his soul has been energized by the kids that surround him in the clubhouse.
He's 36 years old, but Mora feels like a rookie again.
``I'm happy. You know why? Because I'm working with the young guys, I'm in the big leagues with new guys, a new staff,'' he said. ``And my hitting instructor is still here.''
Crowley and Mora work almost daily in the batting cage. There isn't much left for Mora to learn, but if there's a hitch in his swing, Crowley will make sure it isn't there for long.
``We basically have been doing everything that we've done for the past six or seven years. What I see is the same exact swing, just a little more perfected right now,'' Crowley said. ``We had a nice session the other day, and he took it right into the game. Melvin is exactly what he's always been for me. His drills and his habits in the tunnel are exactly the same.''
With Mora's good friend Miguel Tejada gone, the Orioles don't have much power in the lineup. Mora hit 27 homers in 2003 and duplicated that performance in 2004, but after hitting 14 last season, there's some question if he has the same punch in his bat. Then again, he's batting second in the lineup, so his main objective will be to move up leadoff hitter Brian Roberts.
``I never think about hitting home runs,'' Mora said. ``When you try to hit home runs, you know what happens? You miss the ball. I try to hit line drives, but I know my power is going to pick up because I feel good. I'm think I'm going to hit 20, 25.''
Before Mora had an opportunity to test the free agent market at the end of the 2006 season, the Orioles provided him with a three-year extension and a no-trade clause. So, unless Mora signs off on a deal, he will be in Baltimore through 2009.
``It makes me proud to be with the team for a long time. Not too many guys stay in one place like that for a long time,'' he said. ``To be with the Orioles a long time is something special. I have to thank the fans for the way they've supported me while I've been in Baltimore. That's why I work hard every day.''

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