|Friday, August 31
Updated: September 2, 1:24 PM ET
Nobody wins when the winners cheated
By Jim Caple
Move over, Rosie Ruiz. You have company.
It isn't often you find a story that makes you laugh -- David Letterman's No. 6 sign a Little Leaguer is too old: "Teammates put their teeth under the pillow -- he puts his in a glass of water" -- and also leaves you shaking your head disturbed about the state of modern day sports and society.
The Almonte Little League saga has been such a story, alternately funny and sad, providing talk radio with enough material to fill the entire AM dial until the real World Series is played.
When Danny Almonte initially burst on the national scene last week, like everyone else I was suspicious of his age. Still, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because there always are kids at the Little League World Series who appear older than 12. I may be mistaken, but didn't Cody Webster and Sean Burroughs both sport some of those C. Everett Koop muttonchops in their day?
Now it turns out that Almonte is 14 and -- much, much worse -- his father didn't bother sending him to school last year. Instead, he kept him home so he could play ball. Felipe Almonte must have been under the mistaken belief that his son was on a basketball scholarship to the University of Minnesota, while young Danny must have thought the U.S. was a truly wonderful country.
The reason Almonte's father kept him out of school seems pretty clear: It would have blown his cover. After all, it would be difficult to portray him as a 12-year-old if he was hitting on girls in his eighth grade health class.
What a piece of work Felipe Almonte must be. He moved his son to the United States, falsified birth documents and kept him out of school just so that he could dominate 12-year-old Little Leaguers on the diamond. Instead of raising his son, he took advantage of him and turned him into a little cheat. He, and any other adults who knew Danny's true age, are pathetic, the worst stereotype of the Little League parent sprung to life.
This had been a great year for Little League. President George W. Bush built a Little League field and hosted games at the White House. The Bronx team momentarily brought more favorable attention to an organization that is an easy target for criticism.
Then the story deteriorated into the Little League cliché, of the overbearing, abusive parents who place winning and fame above the kids.
That's too bad, because I still look back very fondly on my Little League days and think the league is a fun, positive experience for most of the kids and parents involved.
However, this case must force Little League -- and the rest of us, as well -- to re-examine how we can make sure that youth sports are as positive an experience as possible for as many players as possible.
For one thing, Little League needs to make sure a player is enrolled in school before allowing him on the field. For another, we need to stop this ever-increasing emphasis on all-star tournaments -- not just the Little League World Series, but all the other regional and state and national tournaments for all youth groups in all sports -- that reward the best players and leave the majority off the team, at home and in front of the TV, playing Nintendo.
And then we must somehow find a solution to the essential problem with Little League and all the other youth leagues: It isn't proving the kids are young enough to play, it's proving the adults are mature enough to be in charge.
Jim Caple is a Senior Writer for ESPN.com.