South Williamsport, Pennsylvania is currently hosting its annual summer classic, the Little League World Series. Every August, young boys and girls qualify and travel from all over the world to compete in a ten day, winner-take-all double elimination tournament for global youth baseball supremacy. For any baseball player between the ages of ten and twelve, it’s the mecca where dreams come true and memories are made.
For years, ESPN has broadcast the competition on television allowing the kids their fifteen minutes of fame much like their big league baseball heroes. Besides all the smiles, tears, and cameras, one major moment still comes to mind and overshadows all the prior champions and feel good stories that make the event a can’t miss spectacle.
That moment is one shared by a Fourteen year-old Danny Almonte and his team, the Rolando Paulino Little League All-Stars from Bronx, New York.
Almonte, coined “Little Unit”, like Hall-of-Famer Randy “Big Unit” Johnson, towered above the competition standing at five feet eight inches tall. Throwing his fastball 76 miles per hour (the major league equivalent of 102 mph), the south-paw pitched his way to considerable national media attention by throwing a no-hitter in the 2001 Mid-Atlantic Regional Finals. The unbelievable performance pegged Danny a future phenom, and landed his team a spot in the LLWS.
Entering the tournament as favorites, the “Baby Bombers” and Almonte made quite a bit of noise when he hurled the tournament’s first perfect game since 1979. Overall, the team fell short of their goal and finished the event in third place. Almonte’s dominant performance was legendary, finishing with a stat line that saw him strike out 62 of the 72 batters he faced, while allowing only one earned run and three hits total in three appearances on the mound.
These types of feel-good stories have their shining moment every August when the boys and girls of summer descend upon the small Pennsylvania town. They are partially responsible for why the LLWS is deemed as can’t-miss baseball, bringing to life the real struggles families and teams face following their dreams.
However, dreams can quickly turn into nightmares–and in Danny’s case, his accomplishments soon began losing their luster. Because of his imposing size and excellent command on the mound, rumors began swirling that Almonte was too old to play in the tournament.
Two opposing teams soon hired investigators to look into the ages of the entire team from the Bronx. Some of the players, including Almonte were born in the Dominican Republic and their ages were verified with Paulino, and backed by both Little League and Dominican officials as being eligible to compete.
Soonafter, investigators from Sports Illustrated uncovered civil records showing that Almonte was in fact born on April 7, 1987. The birth was registered by his father, Felipe Almonte in 1994. The delay is a normal custom amongst Dominican born children. Nevertheless, the record proved Danny was fourteen at the time of competition, thus making he and his team ineligible.
Felipe Almonte and Rolando Paulino were both banned from Little League competition for life and the team was forced to forfeit all of their wins and records from their improbable run through Williamsport. Dominican officials later provided documentation that Danny attended school in the Dominican Republic until June 15, 2001. That’s about one month shy of the LLWS tournament’s usual start date.
The bottom line is simple. Danny Almonte was brought from his native land in the Dominican to help aide Rolando Paulino’s quest for little league baseball immortality. Despite proclaiming their innocence, the boys family knowingly lied and used the boy in Paulino’s scheme. Danny didn’t even speak english, and the only question remaining to this day is whether or not he knowingly competed illegally?
The LLWS is a wonderful experience that has impacted the lives of young children for more than 72 years, starting in 1947. These adults decided to take a children’s game and tarnish it’s legacy for their own pursuits of achievement. Little League Baseball is comprised of the idea of honesty, sportsmanship and fair play for all. These individuals acted manipulatively, coercing the deception of baseball fans and many child competitors worldwide.
When caught, these deviants further continued drifting away from the truth and attempted to cover up the scandal. Teaching children that integrity means nothing and that winning is everything is a slippery slope that has affected these children long after they moved on from their little league days.
For example, take a look at Danny Almonte. The boy is now a 32 year-old man and has never been able to shake the stigma of being labeled a “cheater”. Despite being an extremely talented baseball player, Major League Baseball teams refused to draft him when becoming eligible. There was no way any team would align themselves with a kid involved in the biggest scandal in LLWS history.
Almonte’s dreams of baseball stardom died in the summer of 2001, and his teammates, parents and league director all shared responsibility for being involved in the time-less act of deception. Today, the champions of yesteryear never seem to be remembered because the event at South Williamsport is about ALL the children competing. It is their moment to shine, even if playing on fields and under lights shadowed by the haunting discovery of Almonte’s dominant and illegal contributions to the wonderful history of childhood baseball tradition.