Almonte's team forfeits LLWS victories
Updated: Saturday September 01, 2001 10:16 AM
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) -- Little League pitcher Danny Almonte is no longer perfect -- because he's no longer 12.
The boy who dominated the Little League World Series with his 70 mph fastballs was ruled ineligible Friday after government records experts determined he actually is 14, and that birth certificates showing he was two years younger were false.
The finding nullified all the victories by his Bronx, N.Y., team, the Rolando Paulino Little League All-Stars, and wiped out all its records -- including Almonte's perfect game and an earlier no-hitter.
It also left his father, Felipe de Jesus Almonte, facing criminal charges for falsifying documents, and may lead to charges against his mother as well.
"Clearly, adults have used Danny Almonte and his teammates in a most contemptible and despicable way," said Stephen D. Keener, president and CEO of Little League Baseball in South Williamsport, Pa. "We're clearly sad and angry that we were deceived. In fact, millions of Little Leaguers around the world were deceived."
The Bronx league's founder, Rolando Paulino, was banned for life from any association with Little League, although the team's charter was not revoked. Almonte's father also was banned for life from associating with Little League.
"I feel like the government has sold us out," Almonte's maternal uncle, Jose Rojas, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from the boy's hometown of Moca. He said Almonte would return home soon but declined to elaborate.
A week that began with Almonte pitching a two-hitter to win third place in the World Series started unraveling the next day, when Little League officials opened an investigation after Sports Illustrated uncovered a document that said he was born in 1987.
Almonte's mother, Sonia Rojas Breton, who lives in Moca, produced a handwritten, photocopied birth certificate that said her son was born April 7, 1989. But Moca's official records office had another birth certificate that said he was born April 7, 1987.
Another handwritten document from Dr. Toribio Bencosme Hospital in Moca surfaced, saying a woman named Rojas gave birth to a boy there on April 7, 1987. Rojas, who says she gave birth to Almonte at home in the nearby town of Jamao, insisted all documents but hers were false.
Little League rules prohibit any player born before Aug. 1, 1988, from competing this year.
Victor Romero of the public records office in Santo Domingo investigated Almonte's birth documents in Moca, about 90 miles north of the capital. He also investigated records from the nearby town of Jamao and spoke to witnesses.
"There are a number of contradictions in the second birth certificate," Romero said, referring to the document listing the 1989 date. "Neither the witnesses, the hospital, nor the local authorities could confirm Almonte was born in Jamao."
The witnesses denied knowing the family or having signed the birth certificate, said Ramon Morel Cerda, the president of the Dominican Electoral Committee, which is in charge of most public records.
The government plans to charge the boy's father with falsifying documents, and was considering charges against the mother, Morel said.
The town official from Jamao who registered Danny's age as 12 last year has been suspended, he said.
"I'm disappointed that adults would fudge the boy's age," President Bush said. "I wasn't disappointed in his fastball and his slider. The guy is awesome. He's a great pitcher."
The boy was brought to New York last year by his father, who insisted his son was 12.
At a news conference earlier Friday in the Bronx, Paulino said he would abide by the decision from Little League Baseball.
"I trust all the parents in the league to present original documents," said Paulino, who was flanked by team members and parents -- but not the Almontes. "If the parents lie to the league that is not my problem. I accept the information that the parents gave to me.
"If Danny's father has provided information that is inaccurate, we all feel bad," he said in Spanish through a translator.
Age tampering is common in the Dominican Republic, a poor country where youngsters seek to escape to the lucrative professional ranks in the United States.
"It saddens us that there are people who are throwing out the work we have done against this sort of thing," said Jose Daniel Calzada, the country's baseball commissioner.
In his perfect game in the World Series opener against Apopka, Fla., Danny Almonte struck out the first 15 batters -- the first perfect game in 44 years at the tournament.
He followed that with a one-hit shutout in the U.S. semifinals against an Oceanside, Calif., 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 the last inning of his final game was the only one Almonte gave up all summer.
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-Atlantic 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, to no avail.
After their third-place finish, Almonte and his team were honored in New York, receiving the keys to the city, a parade through the Bronx and a tribute at Yankee Stadium, even as the controversy flared.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the city would not ask for the keys back, saying "it would only add to the hurt and pain that the innocent children of this team are already experiencing."
But the Universal Orlando theme park, which had planned a parade Tuesday for the Bronx team, withdrew the invitation Friday.
"We wanted to recognize what these kids had accomplished," a statement said. "In light of the Little League's decision to disqualify all of the team's games, that is now obviously inappropriate."
Meanwhile, the San Juan daily El Nuevo Dia reported Friday that Paulino had six overage players on a team that he brought from Moca to represent the Dominican Republic at the Latin American Little League tournament in 1988 in Puerto Rico.
The team won the tournament but later was stripped of the title because of the age dispute, said Carlos Pagan, Latin American director of Little League Baseball in San Juan. Panama went on to win. Paulino has denied the report.
On Thursday, a U.S. official who asked not to be identified said Almonte and his father are in the United States illegally. They applied to come to the United States in June 2000 and were issued tourist visas, but the visas expired six months after their arrival, the official said.
The boy also has not been enrolled in school during his time in the United States. A city investigation could lead to his removal from his father's home and placement in foster care, although it is more likely officials will try to work out another solution.