In the summer of 2001, Danny Almonte was a star of Little League World Series, a showcase for young baseball players age 12 and under. Almonte’s pitching was out of this world: he struck out an impressive 62 of 72 batters and threw a perfect game. But there was one major problem: Almonte was actually 14 years old, two years above the limit. Before anyone knew he was an overage player, Almonte was becoming a household name. When news broke about Almonte’s real age, the scandal nearly disgraced everyone around him. But what role did Almonte have in it? Was he aware of the deception or was he just a puppet in something larger? Years later, many questions remain.
In an ESPN “30 For 30” short, Danny Almonte opens up about this strange period in Little League history.
Before his falsified age became front page news, Almonte was becoming a national superstar, especially among fans in the New York borough of the Bronx, which he represented as part of the Baby Bronx Bombers. But Almonte wasn’t really from the Bronx. Before the Little League World series tourney, he spent most of his life in the Dominican Republic.
Once the news broke, however, Amonte’s personal life became a living hell. Some say he ruined the sanctity of Little League, likening Almonte’s scandal to steroid use in the pros. As Almonte explains, in the aftermath, he wished he could go back to the Dominican Republic, back to his mom, away from the 24/7 media coverage. Because English wasn’t his first language, he was unable to defend himself, and so he relied on the adults around him, his father and uncle, the same adults who might have might have played a role in altering his birth certificate in the first place. But Almonte also knew something else: his real age.
So why would someone change his age to 12 years old? And why would Almonte go along with it?
As ESPN speculated in 2001, reducing Almonte’s age was likely done to attract the attention of scouts, who would be particularly impressed pitching abilities, which were well above average for a 12-year-old. Baseball can provide wealth and opportunity for poor families living in the Dominican Republic, so it’s not uncommon for parents to fudge their child’s birth certificates. It’s also not very difficult, as, according to ESPN at that time, as many as 25 percent of children didn’t even have a valid birth certificate. So if a parent told you that you were 12, you assumed you were 12. As Almonte told ESPN, even though he knew his age, he kept quiet because his father told him to: “The way I was raised, if my dad says something, you gotta do it.”
As ESPN pointed out, Danny Almonte’s age was likely altered so that he, and his family, might have a chance at living the American dream. But in the end, Almonte’s life became a nightmare from which he has, in time, learned to live with. And he’s learned that life is more than baseball.