The Little League World Series final at Howard J. Lamade Stadium
in Williamsport, Pa., on Sunday had a thrilling finish that in
other years would have served as the tournament's most
unforgettable image. For the second time in three years the
series was won by a team from Japan, as Tokyo Kitasuna scored
both runs in its 2-1 victory over Apopka, Fla., on a
bottom-of-the-sixth single by Nobuhisa Baba, a 5'1" third
baseman. The Japanese had come from behind on their last at bat
to win the international championship game as well as the series
final and celebrated each time by sprinting madly out to the
centerfield wall, where they threw themselves down in cartoonish
genuflection before the bust of Lamade, who had donated the land
for the ballpark.
But Sunday's events seemed almost anticlimactic after the show
put on earlier in the series by Danny Almonte, a remarkably
poised lefthander from the Rolando Paulino All-Stars of the
Bronx. As his team advanced to last Saturday's U.S. championship
game, in which it lost 8-2 to Apopka, Danny, a native of Moca in
the Dominican Republic, seemed like a man among boys, using his
lanky leg kick and effortless release to blind his overmatched
foes with 70-mph-plus two- and four-seam fastballs--the
equivalent, given that Little League pitchers throw from a mound
just 46 feet from home plate, of 92-mph major league heat--and
bamboozle them with sharp curves and changeups. Beginning with
the no-hitter he threw in the Eastern Regional final on Aug. 14
in Bristol, Conn., Danny won all four games he pitched, including
a perfect game, the World Series' first in 44 years, against
Apopka in round-robin play on Aug. 18. In those appearances he
gave up only one run (unearned) and three hits and struck out 62
of the 72 batters he faced. He was ineligible to pitch against
Apopka in the U.S. championship game because he had thrown a 1-0
one-hitter against Oceanside, Calif., in the U.S. semifinal, and
Little League rules prohibit a pitcher from taking the mound if
he has thrown an inning or more in his team's previous game.
Such was Danny's celebrity that during the tournament he received
a good-luck call from his idol, Cincinnati Reds centerfielder Ken
Griffey Jr., and as a child version of the Arizona Diamondbacks'
towering lefty Randy (the Big Unit) Johnson, the 5'8" Danny
earned the nickname the Little Unit. Even before the tournament
his physical and mound maturity had caused some to wonder if he
was, as the Paulino All-Stars claimed, 12 years old--the maximum
age for Little League eligibility. Last Friday the Newark
Star-Ledger reported that a group of adults associated with a
Little League team on Staten Island had paid $10,000 this summer
for a private investigation into the Paulino players' ages. The
detectives had found no evidence that the boys were too old.
Apparently, they did not inquire at the oficialia civil--the civil
records building--in either Moca or Santo Domingo, where they
could have found further reason to question Danny's age.
According to birth ledgers in Moca examined by SI, Danny's birth
date was registered with the Dominican government in December
1994 by his father, Felipe, as April 7, 1987. (In the Dominican
Republic it is not uncommon for parents to wait years before
officially declaring the birth of a child.) That means that when
Danny Almonte was blowing away batters in Williamsport last week,
he was officially 14 years old.
"When he was a little boy, he always walked around with a little
stick, hitting things, batting," Danny's mother, Sonia Margarita
Rojas Breton, 28, said last Saturday in Moca, an agricultural
town of 70,000 about 90 miles north of Santo Domingo, as she
waited for the U.S. championship game to begin on television.
Danny's love of baseball came from his 36-year-old father, who in
1992 started a youth league in Moca that still bears his
name--Liga Felipe de Jesus Almonte. Three years later Felipe
Almonte, long since divorced from Danny's mother, immigrated to
In the spring of 2000 Danny joined his father in the Bronx, where
Felipe was working at a bodega in a Dominican section of the
borough. Danny began pitching and playing centerfield in the
Bronx league named after its founder, Rolando Paulino, a
sportswriter for Noticias del Mundo, a Spanish-language newspaper
based in New York City. Paulino, also a Dominican immigrant,
serves as a coach of the All-Stars as well as league president.
His success with the team has brought in a $50,000 sponsorship
from Merrill Lynch and made him a popular man in New York's
Danny was one of the mainstays on last year's All-Stars, who lost
in the Eastern Regional final. This season Danny became the star.
Last Thursday the Paulino team manager, Alberto Gonzalez, said
that Danny was accused of being overage because he is so smart on
the mound. "He's just a little more mature than other kids right
now," Gonzalez said hours before Danny's gem against Oceanside.
"The biggest plus is his mental approach. His mind is very
focused. You tell him something once, and he will never forget."
Danny's dominant performances in Williamsport led to intensified
media interest in accusations that Paulino was using players
older than 12. Before hearing of the birth records located by SI,
officials at Little League headquarters said they were tired of
listening to questions about the eligibility of the Bronx team.
"We don't have a shred of evidence that these kids are overage,"
said Lance Van Auken, Little League director of media relations,
last Thursday. Van Auken said that the team had followed proper
procedures concerning age verification, submitting birth
certificates and/or passports to a district administrator, who
presented the team with an affidavit certifying the players'
eligibility. Because of the suspicions surrounding the team,
officials at Little League headquarters had taken the unusual
step of examining each of the players' documents.
Van Auken was especially nettled by the persistent questioning of
Danny's age. Almonte's talent, impressive as it is, didn't
support such scrutiny, according to Van Auken, who said, "There
have been better pitchers here. The difference is, most of them
have been white. In some of the e-mails I get, the racism is
thinly veiled; in others it's overt." He said he had received
close to 50 such e-mails regarding the Bronx team, most of which
complained that its members should be playing for the Dominican
Republic, where three of the 12 Paulino All-Stars were born.
Still, the questions kept coming. On Friday, Paulino was
surrounded by reporters asking to see copies of Danny's birth
certificate. Paulino retreated to the team's dormitory on a hill
overlooking the Little League complex and came back carrying a
forest-green portfolio. "This is the last time I'm doing this,"
he declared, and from a pile of documents he pulled out what he
said was Danny's birth certificate. The typewritten birth date
had been highlighted in yellow ink--7 de abril 1989. April 7,
1989. On the backside were red and green stamps of authenticity.
The certificate, referring to the system of ledgers used to
record births in the Dominican Republic, was indexed: "4 libro,
54 folio." Book 4, folio 54.
All birth records in the Dominican Republic are kept in hardbound
9-by-11-inch books. Each birth is recorded in two books--one kept
in the central office in Santo Domingo and the other in the local
An SI reporter checked with the Santo Domingo office and found
Danny's birth record indexed as book 267, folio 144. The reporter
then traveled to the regional oficialia in Moca, which is housed
in a large one-story building with a single room. Within minutes
a clerk located the entry for Danny in the book of original birth
records. The reporter looked at the book and confirmed that the
entry listed Danny as having been born on April 7, 1987, to Sonia
Margarita Rojas Breton and Felipe de Jesus Almonte. The entry
listed personal identification numbers--the rough Dominican
equivalent of U.S. Social Security numbers--for both Sonia and
At a cost of 30 pesos (just under $2), a copy, or acta, was
prepared for SI listing the date and birth information. In
appearance, the acta was similar to the document exhibited by
Paulino in Williamsport. The reason for that soon became clear:
Paulino's document had apparently been created from a second
Dominican birth record for Danny--an official but highly suspect
SI found this birth record right where Paulino's document said it
would be: book 4, folio 54. 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.
To eliminate the possibility that two sets of parents with
identical names had had sons named Danny de Jesus Almonte--one of
them born on April 7, 1987, and the other two years later to the
day--SI compared the personal identification numbers given for
Felipe and Sonia on the 1994 and 2000 birth records. The numbers
When Paulino was told on Sunday of the 1994 Dominican birth
record that SI had found, showing that Danny was 14, he said,
"The document we have here is official and legal. It's possible
the [SI] reporter got someone with the same name. There must be a
mistake." He expressed exasperation and retired to the team's
dormitory. Reversing the vow he made earlier, he returned with
the conflicting birth certificate as well as Danny's passport,
which similarly gave the youth's birth date as 1989.
"Every time a Hispanic team, even though the majority of [the
players] were born here, triumphs, people will look for whatever
way to take away what they've done," Paulino said. "Most of those
people are bad losers, poor sports. No other team, not even those
from abroad, has been scrutinized like us. Do you know what
envidia [envy] means? Celos [jealousy]? With all the money people
have spent investigating us, they could have started a new league
or helped the kids."
Paulino said that both the birth certificate and the passport he
was relying on had been supplied by Felipe. He noted that the
passport indicated that Danny had made a trip to Puerto Rico.
"The truth is that Danny has never been to Puerto Rico," Paulino
said. "Sometimes the government makes mistakes."
Felipe Almonte could not recall when he registered Danny's birth.
He said that the Dominican government must have made a mistake.
Paulino pointed out that if Danny were 14, then he and his older
brother, Juan, would be only six months apart. "So it cannot be
true," Paulino said. (SI did not locate a birth certificate for
When informed on Monday of Danny Almonte's conflicting birth
certificates, Van Auken described the news as "disheartening." He
said he could not recall a case of age tampering by a contending
team in the 54-year history of the World Series. (In 1992 a team
from the Philippines forfeited its World Series championship, but
that was because it had used players from outside local league
boundaries.) On Monday afternoon the Little League announced that
it would investigate the birth-certificate discrepancy. Said the
organization's president, Stephen D. Keener, "Anyone who would
knowingly undermine the trust in Little League is guilty of doing
serious harm to children."
How, in the future, might Little League tighten its procedures
for checking birth dates? Van Auken shook his head as he went
over the numbers: Little League oversees nearly 35,000 teams in
10 tournament age divisions and 105 countries. "We have one
employee for about every 25,000 players in our program," he said.
"There is no way we can go and check the birth date of every
player. All we can do is continue to depend on the honesty of our
volunteers and the parents who are signing their kids up."
COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL J. LEBREACHT II [T of C]
COLOR PHOTO: DOCUMENT PHOTOGRAPHED FOR SI BY VICTOR BALDIZON A matter of years According to this official copy of his birth record obtained by SI in Moca, his Dominican hometown, Danny was born on April 7, 1987 (highlighted portion), which would make him too old for Little League eligibility by two years.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID BERGMAN COLOR PHOTO: VICTOR BALDIZON Point of pride On Saturday, Danny's mother, Sonia (center), watched him play for the U.S. championship on a neighbor's TV in Moca.
"He's just a little more mature than other kids right now,"
Gonzalez said before Danny's gem against Oceanside.