- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 1, 2001

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — 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 yesterday after government records experts determined that he actually is 14 and that birth certificates showing he was two years younger were false.
Within hours, Little League Baseball nullified all the victories by his Bronx, N.Y., team, the Rolando Paulino Little League All-Stars, and wiped out all its records, including Danny's perfect game and an earlier no-hitter.
"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."
It was the first time in the history of the Little League World Series that a player has been confirmed to be ineligible because of age.
Both Danny's father, Felipe de Jesus Almonte, and the Bronx league's founder, Rolando Paulino, were banned for life from any association with Little League, although the team's charter was not revoked.
Officials took no action against Danny, instead welcoming him to participate in a Little League program for teen-agers.
President Bush, a member of the Little League Hall of Excellence who attended Sunday's championship game, said yesterday he was "sorely disappointed that people felt like they could send in a false age, particularly when it comes to Little League baseball, of all places."
But Mr. Bush praised the boy at an event for a new White House Internet site for children.
"I wasn't disappointed in his fast ball and his slider. The guy is awesome. He's a great pitcher," the president said.
Little League officials opened an investigation after Sports Illustrated uncovered a document that said he was born in 1987.
His mother, Sonia Rojas Breton, who lives in the Dominican town of Moca, produced a handwritten, photocopied birth certificate that said her son was born in nearby Jamao on April 7, 1989. But Moca's official records office had another birth certificate that said the boy was born April 7, 1987.
Another handwritten document surfaced from the Dr. Toribio Bencosme Hospital in Moca, about 90 miles north of the capital, Santo Domingo.
It said a woman named Rojas gave birth to a boy there on April 7, 1987. Mrs. Rojas, who says she gave birth to Danny 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.
"There are a number of contradictions in the [1989] birth certificate," said Victor Romero of the public records office in Santo Domingo. "Neither the witnesses, the hospital nor the local authorities could confirm."
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, Mr. Morel said. The boy was brought to New York last year by his father, who insisted his son was 12.
One of Danny's relatives blamed the Dominican government.
"I feel like the government has sold us out," said his maternal uncle, Jose Rojas, in a telephone interview from Moca. He said Danny would return home soon but declined to elaborate.
On Thursday, a U.S. official who asked not to be identified said Danny 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.
At a news conference earlier yesterday in the Bronx, Mr. Paulino said falsifying ages is "not my problem."
"I trust all the parents in the league to present original documents," said Mr. 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," he said in Spanish through a translator.
In his perfect game in the World Series opener against Apopka, Fla., Danny 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. The team's only loss was a rematch against Apopka in which Danny couldn't pitch because of a rule that prohibits pitchers from starting consecutive games.
But rumors about his 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, the team was 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 W. 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."
In addition, Cincinnati Reds star Ken Griffey Jr. followed through yesterday on an earlier promise to give Danny one of his bats, saying "I feel bad" for the boy.
"Hopefully, nobody is blaming him," Mr. Griffey said before yesterday's game in Pittsburgh. "If he's 12 or if he's 14, I'm sure he was just doing what he was told. He probably didn't even know it was being done."
But the Universal Orlando theme park, which had planned a parade Tuesday for the team, yesterday withdrew the invitation.
"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."


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