|Friday, August 31
Almonte, Bronx team records wiped away
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Little League star Danny Almonte is 14, not 12 -- a finding Friday that cost his team its third-place World Series finish and left his father facing criminal charges.
All the victories of his Bronx, N.Y., team, the Rolando Paulino Little League All-Stars, were forfeited, and all its records -- including Almonte's perfect game -- were wiped out.
"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, also was banned for life from any association with Little League, although the team's charter was not revoked. Almonte's father, Felipe de Jesus Almonte, also was banned for life from associating with Little League.
Interestingly, Almonte was not barred from participation in other Little League divisions. He will be eligible to participate next year in Senior League, a league for players aged 14, 15 and 16.
A birth certificate showing the ace pitcher is 12 was found to be false, said Manuel 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, Sonia Rojas Breton, Cerda said.
Little League rules prohibit any player born before Aug. 1, 1988, from competing this year.
Rojas, who lives in the town of Moca, has a handwritten, photocopied birth certificate that said her son was born April 7, 1989. But Moca's official records office has another birth certificate that said he was born April 7, 1987.
Another handwritten document from Dr. Toribio Bencosme Hospital in Moca states that 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, insists all documents but hers are false.
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, where Almonte's mother said he was born.
Officials found the birth certificate from Jamao to be false after speaking to the witnesses who had signed the birth certificate. The witnesses denied knowing the family or having signed the birth certificate, Morel said.
The town official from Jamao who registered Danny's age as 12 last year has been suspended, he said.
"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 boy was brought to New York by his father, who has insisted his son was 12.
At a news conference earlier Friday in the Bronx, Paulino said he would abide by the decision.
"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.
Paulino said he did not know where father and son were, adding that he respects their privacy.
Danny Almonte was the most dominating pitcher at the World Series this year, throwing a perfect game in the opener against Apopka, Fla. He struck out the first 15 Apopka batters in 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 last inning of his final game was the only run scored on Almonte all summer.
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-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.
On Monday, however, Little League officials in South Williamsport began an investigation into Almonte's age after Sports Illustrated uncovered the document that said he was born in 1987.
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.
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 on Friday denied the report.
Meanwhile, 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.
Little League officials have said his immigration status did not affect his eligibility since all that is required is that a child be of age and that a parent or legal guardian live in the community he represents.
President Bush was disappointed to hear that Almonte is 14 years old and not 12, a White House spokesman said Friday.
When Bush was inducted into the league's Hall of Excellence on Sunday, he praised it for teaching children the "values of good, clean competition" and teamwork.
"He was disappointed to hear that," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "Little League is Little League."