Little League: Bronx Team Forefeits All

ByABC News

Aug. 31, 2001 -- Little League Baseball today stripped the third-place finisher in this year's Little League World Series of all its victories after the team's star pitcher was confirmed to be 14 — too old to be eligible.

The league said it accepted a Dominican Republic official's finding that pitcher Danny Almonte was born in the Caribbean nation in 1987, not 1989 as claimed in a handwritten document provided by the boy's parents. The age limit for Little League is 12.

All of the games played by Almonte's team from the New York City borough of the Bronx have been declared forfeit, said Stephen D. Keener, president and CEO of Little League Baseball in South Williamsport, Pa., in a news conference.

Almonte himself would not be punished, Keener said, and would be eligible to play in a league for older boys. But the coach of his Rolando Paulino Little League All Stars team has been indefinately suspended from the Little League organization, he said.

"Clearly, adults abused Danny Almonte and his teammates in a most contemptible and despicable way. Their actions are reprehensible," he said. "We are certainly saddened and angry that we were deceived. In fact, millions of Little Leaguers around the world were deceived, as well as the Little League organization and the governments of the United States and the Dominican Republic."

The announcement probably provided little consolation to the tournament team from Oceanside, Calif., which was knocked out of competition at the U.S. semifinals in a 1-0, 16-strikeout game pitched by Almonte.

Father Faces Charges

In a statement read in the capital of Santo Domingo today, a Dominican Republic official said that despite the presence of two birth certificates claiming different dates of birth for the boy, an investigative team had determined Almonte was born on April 7, 1987.

"Absolutamente falsa," — absolutely false — is how he characterized a birth certificate saying Almonte is 12 years old.

Almonte's mother continues to contend her son is 12. And at a news conference in New York today, before the league announced its decision, Rolando Paulino, founder and head coach of the Rolando Paulino All-Stars, argued he was treated unfairly.

"I trust all the parents in the league to present original documents," he said. "If the parents lie to the league, that is not my problem. I accept the information that the parents gave to me."

Almonte and his father, however, may have bigger problems. New York City is investigating why Felipe Almonte, Danny's father, never enrolled his son in school, and U.S. immigration officials have been quoted as saying the two are in the country illegally.

What's more, Ramon Morell Cerda, president of the Dominican Electoral Central Board, said the government planned to charge the father is facing charges for falsifying documents.

The government was also considering charges against the mother, Sonia Rojas Breton, he said. Cerda said a birth certificate, filed in the town of Jamao, near Almonte's hometown of Moca, appeared to be false.

Two Birth Certificates

The controversy has raged around the issue of the two birth certificates. Almonte's parents, who are separated, have consistently denied charges their son was overage.

While his mother has a photocopy of a handwritten birth certificate saying the boy was born April 7, 1989, the Moca official records office has another birth certificate that put the date of birth at April 7, 1987.

Another handwritten document from the Dr. Toribio Bencosme Hospital in Moca states that a woman named Rojas gave birth to a boy there on April 7, 1987. But Almonte's mother has maintained he was born in the nearby town of Jamao and that all documents but hers are false.

It is not uncommon in remote parts of the Dominican Republic, such as the town where the young player was born, for births to be registered years after they occur.

Shock in Moca

In the town of Moca, about 90 miles north of the capital, members of the Almonte family watched this morning's news conference on TV in a stunned silence.

Barely an hour before the news conference, residents of the town took to the streets chanting, "He's 12!"

Almonte's relatives continued to insist the Bronx Baby Bomber was 12 years old and if the government had concluded otherwise, the government had got it wrong.

Family members said they were planning a huge parade for the boy when he returned to Moca.

Speculation about Almonte's age swept the nation this week, but over the past of 24 hours, many Dominicans appeared to be losing patience with what they viewed as the Almonte family's charades.

‘Eating — and Playing Ball’

The Almontes have already had several strikes against them. A U.S. official, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Associated Press that Almonte and his father were in the United States illegally. They applied to enter the country in June of 2000, and were issued tourist visas. However, officials said the visas expired six months after their arrival.

According to a report on Thursday, Almonte never attended school during the 18 months he has lived in the United States. His father told the New York Daily News he never enrolled his son in P.S. 70 in the Bronx, the public elementary school he told Little League officials Danny attended.

When asked what the boy did with his time, Felipe Almonte told the newspaper: "He has been eating — and he has been playing ball."

Questions That Won’t Go Away

The controversy about the boy began long before the World Series. Coaches of teams from Staten Island, N.Y., and Pequannock, N.J., hired private detectives to investigate the fireballing pitcher.

Those investigations turned up nothing, but on Monday Sports Illustrated reported it had found a document, filed in 1994, registering Almonte as being born in 1987. According to the magazine, the document was filed by Felipe Almonte.

But Felipe Almonte denied the magazine's allegations Wednesday on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America, speaking about the controversy for the first time. He said that he doesn't understand where the document came from and said he only registered his son's birth once, in 2000.

Speaking through a translator, Felipe Almonte said he was not trying to cheat anyone.

He also said that his son, who does not speak English, has been kept in the dark about the controversy.

A Star Pitcher

Danny Almonte lived in Moca until last year, when he moved to the Bronx with his father and began playing Little League.

The left-hander used his 75-mph fastball to lead the Rolando Paulino All Stars to the U.S. championship of the Little League World Series. They lost the game to the Apopka All Stars from Florida, but Danny did not pitch that game.

He hurled the first perfect game in the Little League World Series since 1957, and allowed only one run all year — in the final inning of the final game he pitched.

WABC's N.J. Burkett in Moca, Dominican Republic, contributed to this report.

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