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Agent of change

Shemar Moore's winding path to 'Criminal Minds' started in Boston

Yawns escape from Shemar Moore as his statuesque figure sinks into a chair at his Back Bay hotel. He's exhausted from back-to-back interviews promoting the new season of the hit CBS series "Criminal Minds," yet he's still glowing from his recent appearance at a Red Sox game.

"To come to my hometown and throw the first pitch out in Fenway Park and to get to do it in front of my family for a team I wanted to play for, it was a dream come true," says Moore, who spent part of his childhood in Brighton, where he played Little League baseball and aspired to be a professional ballplayer. "To stand on that mound, I mean, I was a nervous wreck. All I cared about was, please don't bounce it, please don't bounce it."

His role on the mound was short-lived, just a few minutes. And it's a world away from the Hollywood set where he spends 12 to 16 hours at a time playing another role, that of FBI agent Derek Morgan.

An only child of mixed race, Moore says he felt like a chameleon growing up in Boston and in California. Born in Oakland, he moved to Brighton at 6 years old with his single mother, Marilyn Wilson-Moore, a math teacher who was born in Roxbury and taught in Denmark and Bahrain. "When I lived here, I got my first taste of Boston - the snow, the Red Sox, and playing in my first Little League team," says Moore, now 37.

He and his mother had family here; his uncle Stephen Wilson was a science teacher in Watertown. "I worked at the middle school, and he would come to my room at the end of the day," recalls Wilson, who lives in West Roxbury. He describes his nephew as energetic and driven. "Shemar had the Energizer bunny thing going on. He went all day all the time."

After living in Boston for a year, his mother moved them to California, where Moore graduated from Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto. He still visited Boston each summer to see his uncle and cousins, his mother says.

"That is Shemar's family. That is his childhood," says Wilson-Moore. "Boston is very dear to him."

In California, Moore excelled at baseball. He said he could hurl a fastball 93 miles per hour and was drafted by both the Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, but his mother encouraged him to get a college education first.

"Absolutely," Moore's mother recalls. "He was not going to complete college without having at least one degree."

Moore landed at Santa Clara University on a baseball scholarship, and majored in communications and minored in theater and arts. He wanted to pursue broadcast journalism. To pay his bills, he began modeling. Tendinitis in his arm and knee began hampering his baseball skills.

"Little by little, I was making strides in the model-commercial side," says Moore, whose ads appeared in catalogs for Macy's, Sears, and International Male. He began the transition from model to actor. His big breakthrough: playing Malcolm Winters on "The Young and the Restless" from 1994 to 2002. In 2000, he won a daytime Emmy for the role.

That opened other doors, in such films as "The Brothers" and "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." Acting hooked him.

"There's something fascinating about being able to put on costumes and become something else," Moore says. "Or allow yourself to be something that you don't allow yourself to do in your personal life. By acting, you get full permission to act in a way that you may not act in your everyday life."

These days, Moore acts like a FBI agent. He lives in Los Angeles, where he works on "Criminal Minds."

The show, which begins its third season tomorrow night, has quietly become a hit for CBS; it consistently ranked among the top 20 shows last season. When it aired against "Lost" more than a year ago, "Criminal Minds" held its own and then began beating the ABC series. "Criminal Minds" also benefited from the coveted post-Super Bowl slot last winter.

Moore says he is surprised by the success of the series because it doesn't benefit from heavy promotion.

"We really feel like we are the little train that could," says Moore, whose character specializes in obsessional crimes.

The show revolves around a group of FBI profilers - the Behavioral Analysis Unit - who get inside the minds of the country's most twisted criminals. The crew must prevent a crime as they solve one. The show is suspenseful and dark. One episode last season involved a man abducting three teenage girls, locking them in a basement, and having them decide which would die. Another featured a man kidnapping and mutilating homeless people.

"We do exploit and showcase some really creepy type of individuals," Moore says. "The show is kind of scary, kind of humbling, but also fascinating that the guy down the street might have a dark side."

Moore hopes he can make another transition - from television to movies.

"The soap opera was high school," he says. "I graduated. Now I'm in college with 'Criminal Minds.' In a couple of years I will graduate from 'Criminal Minds,' and hopefully that will be the start of a long, long film career."

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.

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