Little League investigates Bronx ace

Posted: Tuesday, August 28, 2001

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Little League is investigating pitcher Danny Almonte after being shown a document that indicated the ace from the Bronx might be older than allowed.

The Rolando Paulino Little League insists Almonte is 12 years old, born April 7, 1989, in Moca, Dominican Republic.

But Little League World Series officials were shown an affidavit Monday by a Sports Illustrated writer that indicated a Danny Almonte was born April 7, 1987, in the town, said league spokesman Lance Van Auken.

Documents previously submitted to Little League by the Rolando Paulino team to prove Almonte's eligibility showed him being born to the same parents in the same town, but in 1989. Van Auken said Little League also was faxed another document Monday afternoon that was similar to the one obtained by Sports Illustrated but showing Almonte being born in 1989.

Little League rules prohibit any player born before Aug. 1, 1988, from competing this year.

''If this is the same Danny Almonte who played for Rolando Paulino Little League, then we have been deceived, and a fraud has been perpetrated on Little League and the millions of youngsters for whom Little League is so important,'' said Little League Inc. President Stephen Keener.

In a statement released Monday, Little League officials said they contacted the Rolando Paulino league in the Bronx, N.Y., which insisted all of its players were eligible and promised to provide further documentation.

According to Sports Illustrated, Almonte's father, Felipe de Jesus Almonte, had registered his son's birth twice, with the earlier record showing a 1987 birth date and the later one showing 1989.

The magazine wrote of the second entry: ''The record, which was in the central office in Santo Domingo, stated that on March 21, 2000 -- just weeks before Danny moved to the U.S. and launched his spectacular career in the Rolando Paulino Little League -- Felipe registered the boy's birth again. This time, according to the birth record, Felipe claimed that Danny had been born on April 7, 1989, thus shaving two years off his son's previously registered age.''

An official with the Rolando Paulino league questioned the magazine's document.

''Rolando, before he lets the kids into the league, he gets the original birth certificate and a passport, because he doesn't want these kinds of problems. This is a surprise to us,'' said Joann Dalmau, a spokeswoman for the Rolando Paulino team.

''What more can we provide, if we have provided an original birth certificate and a passport? Anything else is irrelevant. I don't know what document they have, but they're wrong,'' she said.

If Almonte was found to be ineligible, according to Little League rules, the Bronx team would only be forced to forfeit its last win, the consolation game against Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. Little League could even revoke the Rolando Paulino league's charter.

Asked about the alleged parallel birth certificates, Van Auken said that Little League might have to send someone to the Dominican Republic to investigate. Little League was not given copies of the documents uncovered by Sports Illustrated, and Van Auken said without proof no action would be taken.

''We have in our possession now the same type of documentation that it appears Sports Illustrated has,'' Van Auken said. ''The document we have says 1989, the document they have says 1987, so as far as we're concerned, the team is still the third-place team in the World Series.''

The team is scheduled to honored with a parade in the Bronx on Wednesday.

Almonte was the most dominating pitcher at the World Series this year, throwing a perfect game in the opener against Apopka, Fla. Almonte struck out the first 15 Apopka batters in the first perfect game in 44 years at the tournament.

Almonte followed that with a one-hit shutout in the U.S. semifinals against Oceanside (Calif.) American, a team that came in averaging .333 with five batters at .500 or better.

He finished the tournament with 46 strikeouts, giving up only three hits in three starts. A run scored in last inning of his final game was the only run scored on Almonte all summer.

''Anyone who could do to our team, to the Florida team, to the California team what he did -- I wanted to believe in my heart that he was 12 because I was witnessing greatness on the level of a Michael Jordan or a Tiger Woods,'' said Tom Hart, whose State College, Pa., team was beaten by the Bronx in the Mid-Atlantic Regional championship with Almonte pitching a no-hitter. ''In my heart, I felt I was witnessing something illegal, and he robbed my kids of their dream.''

Behind Almonte's pitching and a solid defense, the Bronx team went 4-1 at the World Series and finished third. The team's only loss was a rematch against Apopka in which Almonte couldn't pitch because of a rule that prohibits pitchers from starting consecutive games.

Almonte became a sensation after throwing 16 strikeouts in the Mid-Altantic Regional championship against State College. His perfect game only added to his reputation, and major leaguers Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr. both contacted Almonte to wish him luck.

But rumors about Almonte's age plagued the team throughout the tournament, and Little League coaches in Staten Island, N.Y., and Pequannock, N.J., said they had hired private investigators to find proof that Bronx players were ineligible, but to no avail.

''He certainly plays like he's older than his years, but I would reserve comment until there's proof,'' Hart said. ''If it's a bogus document, then somebody needs held accountable for that they're doing to this kid and this team. If it's true, my feelings would be anger and frustration.''

Glen Mills, president of Oceanside American Little League, said there was no bitterness among his players.

''If this is true, Little League has to been lied to. But remember, it's not the kid's fault. He has the talent, but it was exploited by adults, and that's a shame,'' Mills said.

''My heart really goes out to Danny Almonte. That kid has so much pressure that none of us know. We can't even conceive what pressure that kid has on him.''

Little League officials said throughout that the Bronx team was the most scrutinized team in the country and that they had seen documents proving the players' ages and residency met Little League requirements.

''Because of rumors reported to us, we did additional due diligence and were shown U.S. and Dominican records confirming the ages of the players on the Rolando Paulino team,'' Keener said.

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