Anyone who ever played organized youth sports remembers that kid on the other team who seemed older, bigger, more adult than everyone else. His parents had to be lying about his age; no way that kid could be freaking 9! That phenomenon, in 2001, had a name: Danny Almonte.
That August, Almonte, a five-foot-eight Dominican left-hander who had moved to the Bronx just a year earlier, became a national feel-good story when he threw a perfect game in the Little League World Series. Almonte faced 72 batters in the LLWS and struck out 62 of them, with 12-year-old after 12-year-old flailing helplessly at his 78-mile-per-hour fastballs. Almonte and his teammates were introduced at Yankee Stadium. President Bush shook his hand. Mayor Giuliani gave him a key to the city.
Then it all fell apart. Sports Illustrated raised questions about Almonte’s age, and the Dominican government ultimately confirmed that his birth certificate had been falsified: He was 14, not 12. The Bronx team was disbanded, the LLWS wins discounted, and Almonte turned into a national joke. (Jay Leno: “You know who ended up catching the fact that the kid was older than 12? Michael Jackson.”) Almonte married a 30-year-old while he was still in high school, being ignored in the Major League draft, and pitching in a total of six minor-league games for the Southern Illinois Miners. As of last summer, he was reportedly separated, playing in an adult competitive league in town, and helping coach sandlot teams. Little League Baseball, meanwhile, reportedly brings in $5 million from the broadcast of the LLWS, and ESPN drew 4 million viewers to a game last year, all with a cast of characters they don’t have to pay a dime.