|Born: April 7, 1987|
Moca, Dominican Republic
Danny Almonte Rojas (born April 7, 1987) is a Dominican-American former baseball player who is currently an assistant baseball coach at Cardinal Hayes High School in New York City. Born in Moca in the Dominican Republic, Almonte was a Little League pitcher who threw up to 79 miles per hour (127 km/h). Considered a phenomenon as he led his Bronx team to a third-place finish in the 2001 Little League World Series, Almonte was revealed to have actually been two years too old to play Little League baseball. Although there were many allegations during the 2001 Series, the truth was not revealed until weeks later.
Little League phenomenon
In 2000, Danny Almonte moved to The Bronx, New York City, where he began playing Little League baseball. His father, Felipe, who had moved to the U.S. six years earlier, had begun a youth baseball league in Moca that still bears his name.
With his high leg kick and a fastball that reached a top speed of 76 miles per hour (the equivalent, for that distance, of a 102 mph major-league fastball), the 5-foot-8 Danny soon became a sensation. His imposing frame won him the nickname "Little Unit," a nod to Randy "Big Unit" Johnson. He threw a no-hitter in the 2001 Mid-Atlantic Regional finals against State College, Pennsylvania, sending his team to the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
In a round-robin game four days later, Almonte threw the first perfect game in the Little League World Series since 1979, against the team from Apopka, Florida. However, his team was defeated by the same Florida team in the U.S. championship game (Almonte could not pitch in the championship game under Little League rules, as he had pitched a complete game the day before). He finished the 2001 tournament with 62 strikeouts (out of 72 batters faced), giving up only three hits in three starts, and only one unearned run. Almonte's team, nicknamed "the Baby Bombers" because they played in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, was the feel-good story of the Little League World Series, and were honored before a New York Yankees game shortly after the Series. They also received the key to the city from Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Concerns about age
Almonte's imposing appearance and command on the mound, as well as the velocity of his fastball, led to rumors that he was older than 12 years old, the age limit for Little League Baseball. A team from Staten Island hired a private investigator to look into the ages of the entire team. A similar investigation was conducted by a team from Pequannock Township, New Jersey. Neither turned up any evidence that the players were too old. Rolando Paulino, the league president, adamantly insisted that Almonte had in fact been born on April 7, 1989. Paulino was initially backed by Little League and Dominican officials, who said the Baby Bombers had followed all proper procedures regarding age verification. Officials at Little League headquarters even took the unusual step of checking each of the player documents due to the rumors surrounding the team. Little League officials had increased scrutiny of player eligibility after the 1992 Series, in which the champions from Zamboanga City in the Philippines were stripped of their title due to a large number of out-of-district and overage players.
Reporters from Sports Illustrated went to the civil records building in Moca two weeks after the end of the 2001 Series. They discovered a notation in the birth ledger showing that in 1994, Felipe Almonte had registered his son's birth date as April 7, 1987 at Dr. Toribio Bencosme Hospital—which would have made him 14 years old at the time of the 2001 Series. It was common for Dominican parents to wait years before registering the birth of a child. Their report, posted on the magazine's website just before being published, triggered a full investigation by Little League, even as Almonte and his teammates were being feted in the Bronx. Almonte's mother, Sonia Rojas Breton, owned a handwritten birth certificate saying that he had been born at home in Jamao with the help of a midwife in 1989. She had registered Danny's 1989 birth date in 2000.
Both of Almonte's parents, though separated, insisted their son was born in 1989, condemning the other documents as false. Felipe Almonte appeared on Good Morning America at the time of the investigation, proclaiming his son's innocence.
Almonte's real age
As part of Dominican officials' investigation, Victor Romero, head of the national public records office, interviewed the witnesses whose signatures appeared on the 1989 birth certificate. They both denied knowing Danny's parents, let alone signing the certificate. On August 31, Romero announced that Danny had in fact been born in 1987.
As a result, Danny Almonte was retroactively declared ineligible, and the Baby Bombers had to forfeit all their wins in tournament play. All of their records were removed from the books, and the team was required to demonstrate compliance with all regulations before entering the 2002 tournament. Felipe was banned from Little League competition for life. Paulino was also banned, since Little League rules make the league president responsible for player eligibility. Dominican prosecutors filed criminal charges against Felipe for falsifying a birth certificate. Danny, who did not speak English at the time, apparently knew nothing about the falsified documents and was cleared of wrongdoing. Little League president Stephen Keener said that Danny and his teammates had been "used ... in a most contemptible and despicable way" and that "millions of Little Leaguers around the world were deceived." ESPN's Jim Caple called Felipe "the worst stereotype of the Little League parent sprung to life." Danny's godmother later begged forgiveness, saying that "we had to commit this little fraud" to give Danny a chance to compete in a tournament as significant as the Little League World Series.
About the same time, New York City child welfare officials discovered that Danny had not been enrolled in school for the 2000–01 year—which would be a violation of state law, and grounds for placing him in foster care. Danny's registration listed him as attending Public School 70 in the Bronx. However, Dominican school officials said they had records that Danny had actually attended school in the Dominican Republic until June 15. This would have made him ineligible for the Little League World Series even if he had actually been 12 years old. Little League rules require a player to have appeared in at least half of his team's games by June 15 in order to be eligible for the all-star team that competes in the tournament. Danny then enrolled at Public School 52 in the Bronx in September.
After his father's visa expired, Danny Almonte remained in New York under the guardianship of Rolando Paulino. He played, along with four of his former teammates, in the 2004 Public Schools Athletic League championship. In early 2005, Almonte moved to the Miami area, where he did not play baseball due to residency requirements. The following year he returned to New York, where he pitched for James Monroe High School in the Bronx.
In May 2006, Almonte announced he was married to 30-year-old Rosy Perdomo. The wedding took place in 2005, when Almonte was 18.
While in the National Amateur Baseball Federation (NABF) wood-bat summer league, he played for Youth Service.
There had been some reports that Almonte would be selected in the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft, though this did not happen. He attended a Major League tryout in October 2006. After the draft he said he would play baseball for New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, New Mexico. The team made it to the National Junior College championship game in 2007. Later that year, Almonte joined the Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League, an independent minor-league circuit—and thus forfeited his NCAA collegiate eligibility. He pitched his first game on May 27, 2007, against the Evansville Otters. The Miners lost, 3–2. He was released on June 30, 2007. Almonte's record was 0–1, with a 5.29 ERA in six appearances. By at least one account, his poor performance was due to his being out of shape at the time.
In fall 2007, Almonte enrolled as a freshman in Western Oklahoma State College, a community college in Altus, Oklahoma, where he pitched and played right field for the Pioneers. Almonte and the Pioneers were ranked fourth in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division 2 poll and advanced to the NJCAA D-2 World Series. Almonte finished as one of the top hitters in JUCO baseball, hitting .497 with fourteen home runs and going 7–1 with one save as a pitcher. In his second year at the school, Almonte hit .472, with eighteen home runs, and had a pitching record of 9–0. Despite those statistics, however, he was not selected by any Major League Baseball organization in the Rule 4 draft.
Forced to give up pitching due to a sore arm, Almonte played semi-pro baseball in the summer of 2009 as an outfielder. As of 2010, Almonte had returned to the Bronx, where he was serving as a volunteer assistant coach for his high school alma mater's baseball team. At that time, he was reportedly no longer with his wife, though he would not discuss details of the relationship. Almonte indicated an intent to return to semi-pro baseball that summer, after the end of the school year, but said that he no longer held expectations of some day playing in the Major Leagues.
In popular culture
- Friend, Tom. . ESPN, 2014.
- "1979 Little League World Series". Retrieved August 18, 2014.
- "Almonte's team forfeits LLWS victories". CNN.
- Thomsen, Ian, and Luis Fernando Llosa. One for the Ages. Sports Illustrated, August 27, 2001.
- ESPN.com: MLB - Nobody wins when the winners cheated
- ESPN.com: Moresports - Almonte attends U.S. school for first time
- ESPN.com: Moresports - Almonte's dad faces charges in the Dominican
- "Now 19, Almonte admits marriage to 30-year-old woman". USA Today. May 19, 2006.
- Braziller, Zach. (April 17, 2010). "Now 23, Danny Almonte starting over — as a coach", New York Post
- "2008 Western Oklahoma St. Pioneers". Western Oklahoma St. Pioneers. Archived from the original on February 25, 2009. Retrieved August 22, 2010.
- Abramson, Mitch. (January 14, 2010). "2001 Little League World Series darling Danny Almonte looking for fresh start", New York Daily News
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball Reference (Minors)
- Ex-Little Leaguer Almonte throwing in Frontier League