Little Leaguer from Bronx is too old at 14

Pitching star loses perfect game

team is stripped of wins

Bogus birth certificate

September 01, 2001|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Danny Almonte, the budding Little League star who earned national prominence for his prowess on the mound, is not 12, but 14 years old, an official from the Dominican Republic confirmed yesterday.

The revelation led Little League officials to strip the Rolando Paulino Little League All-Stars, from the Bronx, N.Y., of their third-place finish in the World Series and forfeit the team's wins and championships at the district, section, state and regional levels.

"Clearly, adults have used Danny Almonte and his teammates in a most contemptible and despicable way," Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball, said at a news conference in Williamsport, Pa. "We're clearly sad and angry that we were deceived. In fact, millions of Little Leaguers around the world were deceived."

Little League officials awarded third place to Willemstad, Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, and erased Almonte's perfect game in the World Series opener against Apopka, Fla.

The news of the deception resonated throughout the country, but particularly struck a nerve in the Eastern Shore. That's where the Easton Little League All-Star team, a squad that had been defeated by Almonte and his Rolando Paulino teammates in the Eastern Regional tournament semifinals, reacted to the finding.

"It doesn't surprise me at all," said Donnie Foster, who coached the Easton team. "We suspected it all along. It's just a shame. They stole a dream from my 12-year-olds."

Manuel Ramon Morel Cerda, president of the Dominican Electoral Committee, told the Associated Press that a birth certificate showing that Almonte is 12 was a fake.

Danny Almonte's parents, Felipe de Jesus Almonte and Sonia Rojas Breton, had claimed that they had a handwritten, photocopied birth certificate showing that the ace pitcher was born on April 7, 1989, in the town of Moca.

But another birth certificate in the town's records office said that Danny Almonte was born on April 7, 1987. A second document in a local hospital recorded a woman named Rojas giving birth to a boy on April 7, 1987.

Players participating in the Little League World Series had to be born after Aug. 1, 1988.

Although Almonte's parents had insisted that all other documents were false and that only the birth certificate they held was authentic, Dominican officials spoke to witnesses who supposedly signed Almonte's handwritten birth certificate.

The witnesses denied signing the document or even knowing the Almonte family. That's when officials notified U.S. officials that Danny Almonte is 14.

Little League officials moved swiftly yesterday to ban indefinitely Felipe de Jesus Almonte and Rolando Paulino, the president of the Bronx League in which the All-Stars play, from any involvement or association with Little League Baseball.

At a news conference in the Bronx, Paulino said he relied on parents to give original documents to him. Paulino said Almonte's parents "lied to us. ... For us, it's very hard to accept and to go through all this."

Little League did not revoke the charter of the Rolando Paulino Little League, calling it "an asset to the community." Officials also declined to prohibit Almonte from participation in other Little League divisions. He will be eligible to play next year in Senior League, for players age 14, 15 and 16.

Danny Almonte earned the nickname "The Little Unit" - in reference to Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks - for his hard-throwing, left-handed delivery.

He became the first pitcher to record a perfect game in the World Series in the tournament's 44-year history. In three starts, he allowed just three hits and struck out 46.

But it was Almonte's dominance that made Foster and his assistant coaches wary.

"You just don't teach 12-year-old kids to throw what he was throwing," Foster said. "The variety of pitches, the control, his command of the game. ... Every team up there could've brought up a 14-year-old."

Foster's Easton team beat the Rolando Paulino team in round-robin play but lost to the New York team in the semifinals. In that game, Almonte pitched the first inning but was relieved by a teammate when the New York squad opened a nine-run lead on the Easton team.

The Rolando Paulino team eventually beat a Pennsylvania team in the regional finals to advance to the World Series.

Easton assistant coach Steve Ford said he felt the most sympathy for the Pennsylvania squad that was denied an opportunity to advance to the World Series.

"He ... took away their shot at the World Series," Ford said. "I think it's ridiculous and shameful on their part. I would expect an apology from somebody."

Although Little League Baseball wiped out the New York squad's regional championship, Foster said the scandal tainted his team's achievements.

"We had a great time, and it was a great year, but it makes me sick to think that [a trip to the World Series] was taken from us by cheating," he said. "Our boys had a dream of getting to the World Series, and we would've done that if Danny Almonte wasn't there."

The Easton team beat the Pennsylvania team in round-robin play.

Michael Foster, the coach's 11-year-old son and second baseman, was equally upset.

"I'm pretty mad to find out he's 14," Michael Foster said of Danny Almonte. "We got ripped."

Focus has shifted to the immigration status of the Almonte family. A U.S. official who requested anonymity told the Associated Press that Danny Almonte and his father are in the country illegally. The official said that the tourist visas the two were using since arriving in June last year were good for only six months.

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