Written by: Lilly Melendez
Photo by: Mario Tama
When you think of Little League, what comes to mind? Of course, there’s the children, proud parents, warm spring days and of course – baseball. At the tender age of 12, the team that made up the Bronx Baby Bombers were making their name known in the Little League World Series. This was in part due to Danny Almonte and his amazing fastball that would reach a top speed of 76 miles per hour. Danny also stood at a towering 5′ 8″. His pitch speed and height quickly earned him the nickname “Little Unit” which was a nod to Randy “Big Unit” Johnson. Then, he threw the first perfect game since 1979 in the Little League World Series. At 12 years old his height and fastball alone began to bring speculation from parents and coaches from opposing teams who all stated that all of these feats that he was achieving were just a bit suspicious for a child who is supposed to be 12. Parents and coaches from opposing teams began putting up their own money in order to hire private investigators to dig into Danny’s life and confirm that he in fact was 12 years old.
There were many reasons as to why some coaches and parents had their concerns. More than just Danny being perhaps too tall for a 12 year old, or the fact that his fastball was much faster than a typical 12 year old should be able to throw. Danny’s coach, Ronnie Paulino had a background filled with controversy. He previously coached a team in the Dominican Republic for the Latin America Little League championship in 1987 and 1988 but the decision of the win was revoked upon discovery that his team had several players who were over the age limit. This led to Paulino being banned from coaching in the Latin America region, however, this did not translate to the U.S. He also ran into issues in 2000 when issues arose regarding documentation requests regarding his team in NY district 22.
Then, it all blew up for the Bronx Baby Bombers and Danny. Sports Illustrated found documentation in the Dominican Republic (DR) showing that Danny was born in 1987, two years prior to what was listed in documentation that was given to the little league team that he was currently playing with. This would make Danny 14 years old, 2 years over the age limit for Little League. Danny’s mother and father insisted that the birth certificate that they provided was the correct one, listing his year of birth as 1989, however, the Dominican Republic complying with U.S officials confirmed that through their own investigation, the names listed as having signed the birth certificate being presented by Danny’s parents was not an official one and in fact, the people who were listed as having signed the birth certificate for Danny listing his year of birth of 1989 did not recall ever having signed or knowing the parents or Danny himself. There were also other issues besides his age. There were rules in place stating that in order to be a part of the team, Danny must of resided in NY for a specific amount of time. The Dominican Republic was able to confirm that Danny was registered and in school in the DR during the stated time that his Little League registration stated he was in NY and attending school in NY.
Apart from that, once Danny did move to NY, he was not registered and did not attend school for nearly an entire year. When asked what he did for that whole year, he responded that he would just play baseball. If you asked Danny how old he was, he responded with 12. He really thought he was 12 years old and had no idea he was actually 14. It is not uncommon for children in the DR (Dominican Republic) to not know how old they really are. They may say they are around a certain age but not know exactly. It would seem that Danny as well as the Little League, his teammates and other coaches were victims of Danny’s father and coach lying about his age. Danny in reality had no idea he was older than what he had been told. The fact that he only spoke Spanish helped shield him from all of the negative media surrounding the controversy and anger that was going on around him. His family and coach did a good job at keeping him shielded from what was going on. However, this did not take away from the fact that there had been deception, lies and most of all, Danny had been used and was a victim. His father fled back to the Dominican Republic to avoid charges in the U.S. leaving Danny to live with his coach Paulino. Charges had also been considered for Danny’s mother but never went through. Paulino adamantly denied having known that Danny was actually 14.
None of this ever really blew over. This continued to plague Danny for the rest of his life and Little League was not the same. With a scandal this big, involving children and deception, it reminds us of how far some people will go to try and push their children to succeed.