In the summer of 2001, Randy Johnson was 36-years-old and striking out 372 hitters (his single-season career high) on his way to a Cy Young Award and an eventual World Series ring with the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was also the same year when Barry Bonds would hit 73 home runs. Major League Baseball was at the peak of its steroid & superstar era, yet during August of that year a lanky Latino from the Bronx was the biggest figure in the sport and about to become the most famous name in Little League history, even bigger than American hero Chris Drury.
It has been 10 years – to the day – since the New York Daily News ran a report on how the South Bronx Little League team, led by pitching phenom Danny Almonte, were just one game away from the Little League World Series in Williamsport. The piece was titled, “Pride Of Bx. Step Closer To Series.”
Almonte had pitched only one inning in a 10-0 semifinals blowout victory and was pulled to pitch in the regional final against Pennsylvania. Said Pedro Espinal, the father of shortstop Kenny Espinal, “Danny Almonte’s the best pitcher. We’re sure he’ll win the game.”
Two days later the New York Times was covering the team’s regional championship when team manager Alberto Gonzalez told a reporter, ”We’ve got everybody on our side, including God,” Gonzalez said today with a twinkle in his eyes. ”I think we have a good chance.”
Almonte would throw a no-hitter that night, striking out 16 on the way to a 2-0 victory. How big did this play in the Bronx? The NY Post even asked Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre about Almonte’s pitching motion in the epic performance. It was August 16, 2001 and the Yankees were in the middle of a pennant chase, yet the legendary pitching coach would point out at least three qualities he saw from Post photographs.
The hysteria was out of control in the media capital of the world.
By Saturday Almonte was on every episode of SportsCenter, and his name was in newspapers around the country as he became the first pitcher in 44 years to throw a perfect game in the Little League World Series.
One man pulled off his artificial left leg and waved it, others stomped in unison and more than a few chanted, ”New York! New York!” as the smell of deep-fried funnel cake wafted through the air.
”I feel very proud for my little brother and my mother and my father,” Almonte said after the game as he sat down at a news conference with an ice pack on his left shoulder. He remained quiet otherwise, nodding shyly to reporters.
Two days later, in the USA Today, there were Randy Johnson comparisons. Harvey Araton would eventually get around to wax poetic about the Little League lefty. Eventually the Bronx, without Almonte on the mound would lose in the U.S. championship game. But the pitcher everyone was talking about for two weeks that August was still in the headlines.
By August 28, just two days after Japan beat the U.S. for the Little League title, USA Today reported that the walls of falsehood were crumbling. A Sports Illustrated reporter found birth documents that contradicted Almonte’s parents’ documents and it was all over for Danny.
Even with the SI report and questions swirling, Rudy Giuliani still held key to the city and stock market bell ceremonies. By August 30 it was all over.
Almonte was 14 and the world knew it.
From August 12 through September 12, 2001, Danny Almonte’s name appears in the Google News archive – every single day. In a matter of 30 days he went from the biggest name in New York City to shamed boy who had been used by opportunistic parents to defraud youth sports.
But 9/11 came and the reporters were busy covering a national tragedy. His story was ultimately over.
Last year, when tracked down by a NY Daily News reporter, Danny wasn’t willing to talk about his life.
“He’s fed up with the negative publicity,” Mike Turo said. “He’s fed up with the stuff that’s been written about him. He just wants to get on with his life. I told him that someone wanted to do a story on him being an assistant coach. He told me, ‘Every time someone wants to do something positive about me it gets turned into a negative.’ He’s tired of the Little League stuff. He doesn’t want it to define him.”
From what we can tell from looking through Almonte’s Facebook, the 24-year-old is back to living in the Bronx and has been married for three years. His college baseball days are over and he never played professional baseball in the United States. Little else is known about Danny’s life.
That seems to be exactly how Almonte wants it.