- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2001

Danny Almonte is married and has couple of children in the Dominican Republic.

That is possibly the next revelation waiting to be uncovered from the back roads of the impoverished nation in the Caribbean.

The Little League World Series is not so little anymore, and Almonte, who has aged two years in the last few days, has become the principal exhibit of what can go wrong around television, money and fame.

Almonte is being granted an extra 15 minutes of fame after Sports Illustrated and the New York Daily News reported that his dominance was not just the product of hard work but his mother's record-setting labor pains that lasted two years.

The mother went into the hospital in 1987, according to the hospital. Almonte came out two years later, according to the father.

This sounds worthy of either a notation in the "Guinness Book of World Records" or a two-nation inquisition.

That is assuming the Dominican Republic is up to the challenge, which is assuming a lot. The nation does not keep the best birth records, which contributed to the doubts before the conflicting documents.

A government official, hopefully one with good eyes, has been dispatched to the town of Moca, Almonte's birthplace, to determine which of the two documents is legitimate. An announcement is expected today, as if word of Almonte's eligibility would remove the suspicion.

The damage already is done, the damage exacerbated by a public love affair gone bad.

Almonte's sweet mug was used by ABC and ESPN to promote the goings-on in Williamsport, Pa. Now his mug carries a serial number. Such is life in the fast lane, whether you are 12 or 14 and subject to an overbearing parent.

Almonte was the overnight brand name who dispensed gold, a fool's gold anyway, and it seemingly is his sentence to be Rosie Ruiz with a mitt. Either way, in the good times and now the bad, he is too young for this media-inspired mess. They are all too young.

Why are the kids from Florida crying? Did someone die? Or has the out-of-touch culture of sport trickled down to the Little League World Series?

Little League officials are as misguided as ABC and ESPN, working as they have to create a monster of hype, expectations and tension. Oops. Error in the field. Let's show it again and again. Let's break it down. Can we get a closeup of the kid's face?

The kids are playing a grown-up game, with grown-up stakes, and no one should be too surprised if the occasional grown-up is motivated to play doctor with a birth certificate.

The quest to be bigger is not always better, and maybe this is what the summer of 2001 is trying to tell the sports culture. Football players are dying, their so-called ideal bodies surrendering to the overtraining, overfeeding and supplements.

Lance Armstrong is not dead, just trapped in the cloak of artificialness that goes with the Tour de France, no matter how many times he wins the race.

NASCAR tried to explain Dale Earnhardt's death last week, neglecting, for a moment, the technology that increases the speed of the vehicles.

Little League officials, in their scaled-down manner, have descended into this complex world with a bunch of kids at their side. The officials are as ill-equipped to handle the fallout as the players, if the effort, after the fact, to learn Almonte's real age is any indication.

Meanwhile, an odd juxtaposition has resulted from the latest developments. Members of the Bronx team are being feted around the city while receiving the back of the media's hand. Try to figure that message out. Cheaters never prosper. They only receive the keys to the city from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Almonte is 12 or 14 at the moment, going on middle age, caught in possibly his father's fantasies, a nation's poor record-keeping and an athletic event that expanded beyond its reach.

Take notes, Little League officials.

You have two choices following the Almonte controversy.

You can scale back or implement a system that confirms the authenticity of your product.


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