Danny Almonte towered over his teammates. He towered over the puny opponents who shook in the batter’s box in front of him. Almonte peered menacingly from the pitcher’s mound like a monster. He was King Kong; the mound was his Empire State Building.
Danny Almonte was also two years older than everybody else on the baseball field.
In the 2001 Little League World Series, Almonte and his Bronx team made a run through the tournament, and quickly Almonte became the front-page story. His sheer size was enough to terrify young sluggers, but his 76-mile-per-hour fastball was the thing of nightmares.
It turned out, though, that the Dominican-born Almonte’s 1989 birth year wasn’t quite as accurate as many believed — or pretended to believe.
With every blazing fastball came more and more talk of the pitcher’s age. Could this kid really be just 12 years old?
Two other Little League teams hired private investigators to research the ages of every player on the Bronx team, to no avail. Little League officials even dug into the accusations — the issue had risen in the sport before — but confirmed the players’ ages.
But Sports Illustrated broke the case. Two weeks after the Little League World Series ended, reporters from the publication discovered that Felipe Almonte registered his son’s birth date as April 7, 1987. He was 14 years old, not 12.
From there, the story exploded.
Little League launched a full investigation into the situation. Almonte’s mother insisted her son was born at home in 1989 and even registered that as his birth year. Although it wasn’t uncommon for Dominican parents to register births years later, Almonte’s mother conveniently registered her son in 2000, 11 years after the alleged birth date and just a year before the start of the LLWS.
Felipe Almonte even appeared on Good Morning America to accuse the original documents of being false.
What a mess.
Eventually, Dominican officials confirmed a 1987 birth. Almonte was done with Little League baseball, his records were wiped from the books, and it now appears the Bronx Baby Bombers never even played in the LLWS.
It’s one of the more fascinating and bizarre sports stories of my lifetime — a lifetime that includes OJ’s white Bronco and Lance Armstrong’s doping, among others.
But Almonte was a superstar. He had eyes locked on the Little League World Series. The pitcher threw a no-hitter to earn his team a trip to Williamsport, and his perfect game in the tournament was the first since 1979. That 76-mph fastball? That’s equivalent to 99-miles-per-hour in the Majors.
The team finished third — mostly because Almonte couldn’t pitch via LLWS rest rules — but it was honored at a Yankees game when the tournament ended, and the Baby Bombers even received a key to the city.
Almonte disappeared. His parents were banned from Little League for life and were even hit with lawsuits for the birth certificate fiasco.
The young, not-so-young pitcher ended up playing at James Monroe High School in the Bronx and later New Mexico Junior College and the Southern Illinois Miners in minor leagues. Semi-pro baseball was the next step, and that’s as far as the baseball journey got for Almonte.
He’s now an assistant high school baseball coach in New York City.
With young 11 and 12 year olds crushing dingers to the woods this month at the LLWS, it’s impossible to not reflect back on Almonte’s dominance. The Little League World Series has become a spectacle, and Almonte surely played a part in that.
It was strange, entertaining and somewhat unbelievable. We’ll never see anything like it again, for good reason, but it’ll be difficult to forget about Almonte blowing away batters in 2001.
And it’s a constant reminder that, man, sports parents can be the worst. Don’t be a bad sports parent.