Published August 14, 2011
Otherwise, that game in 2001 never officially happened — at least not after Almonte was proven to be 14, too old to play Little League ball.
A decade later, the repercussions of that big-league-level scandal still resonate through Little League, where birth certificates might now be tracked as closely as balls and strikes.
As for the youngsters at the time, Almonte lives in New York, playing in an adult league and working at a restaurant, his former high school coach there said. And the group of then-pre-teens from central Pennsylvania he helped beat have moved on to get college degrees and start careers.
The 65th annual World Series begins Thursday here at Lamade Stadium, painted dark green with a steep grassy hill above the outfield, a picturesque venue for a tournament in which organizers preach sportsmanship and fair play. But with ESPN cameras capturing every pint-sized player's every move, a standout performance can turn a participant into a Little League celebrity.
So it was with Almonte, who helped carry his team from New York City to the World Series in 2001. The hard-throwing lefty with a 70-mph slider tossed a perfect game and struck out 16 in a 5-0 shutout of Apopka, Fla. He then pitched a one-hit shutout, clocking pitches at 77 mph, before his team was eliminated in a rematch against Florida in the U.S. championship game .
But the drama was only beginning.
Days later, Little League said Almonte was under investigation after officials were shown a document by a Sports Illustrated writer indicating Almonte was born in 1987 in the Dominican Republic, which would have made him 14. His team had a document that showed Almonte was 12, or born two years later, in the same country. At the time, Little League rules prohibited any player born before Aug. 1, 1988, from competing.
The investigation drew international attention, and even President George W. Bush's administration intervened to ask the Dominican government to investigate. Records experts determined the birth certificate saying he was 12 was falsified and Almonte was actually 14. His team's founder, Rolando Paulino, and Almonte's father were banned from Little League for life. Little League disqualified the team and Almonte.
"I hope he's doing OK. I really do. I always felt he was as much victimized as anybody," Little League president Stephen Keener said in his office overlooking the field where Almonte tossed his perfect game.
"He's the one that's going to have to deal with, 'Oh, you're Danny Almonte.' It's a bit unfair to him, too."
Paulino's league is affiliated with Cal Ripken baseball, another youth sports organization, its website shows. Messages left for league officials were not returned. Efforts to reach Almonte through Turo were unsuccessful, and a phone number for him could not immediately be found.
Almonte, now 24, went on to become a star pitcher at James Monroe High School in the Bronx, a powerhouse program in New York. Monroe coach Mike Turo called Almonte one of the five best players he's coached in three-plus decades.
"Work ethic was always great. When he was on the mound, I knew we were going to win," Turo said.
Almonte disappointed in his only professional stint, with an 0-1 record, 5.28 ERA, 19 walks and 17 strikeouts in six starts for the Southern Illinois Miners in the independent Frontier League in 2007. He was an All-American in 2009 at Western Oklahoma State College but didn't get drafted.
He made news off the field, too. As a senior in high school in 2005, he married 30-year-old Rosy Perdomo. The two have separated, the New York Post reported last year.
Turo suspects the non-baseball headlines may have turned off major league scouts.
"He had a lot of talent," Turo said. "He was one of the smartest players I ever coached. ... He really didn't get a shot."
Almonte was a volunteer assistant for Turo last year and also helped Turo coach the Long Island Tigers, a sandlot team in New York. Almonte lives and works in New York and plays in a competitive adult league, according to Turo, who said going undrafted was a "big disappointment" for Almonte.
"He was very depressed and I think his arm bothered him after that," Turo said. "Now I know he throws a little bit, but he basically does it for fun."
As a result of the scandal, Little League instituted stricter guidelines to check players' ages, Keener said.
Before 2002, teams only had to have a single document to prove a player's age. Now, teams must have a copy of birth certificates, plus three proofs of residence. Local league officials must sign an affidavit saying they have seen the copy of the birth certificate or similar document. And documents are checked again if teams advance in the tournament.
Keener calls the Almonte scandal a milestone for Little League because it helped strengthen its eligibility verification.
"We're a better program today because of it," he said.
Brook Hart, a pitcher for a rookie league team in the Colorado Rockies organization, was a top player for the team from State College, Pa., that lost a regional tournament to Almonte's squad and, with it, a spot in the World Series.
"It was one of the most fun summers of my life, and a pretty disappointing ending ... especially since most of the kids on the team had a pretty good idea that he was over age," Hart said.
But the sting dissipated over time for Hart and his teammates, who don't blame Almonte.
"It was all coming from the top. It didn't just come from him," said Andrew Kerr, another State College player in 2001. He graduated from Princeton and is headed to New York to work in construction and project management.
"He kind of became the focal point," Kerr said, "but there were a lot of other people behind the scenes that made it possible to be there."