Danny Delivers A disgraced Little League star finds redemption in his high school title game

June 20, 2004

The morning before Danny Almonte, the most famous 17-year-old
baseball player in the country, took the mound in the New York
City public school championship game last Friday, he sought
advice from his guardian and coach, Rolando Paulino. "I told him
to play for yourself, for your team that trusts you and for your
mother who is thinking of you in the Dominican Republic," says
Paulino. That evening at Shea Stadium, Almonte--pitching with the
pressure of 5,213 sets of eyes on him and the burden of knowing
that his mother, Sonia Rojas, was 1,550 miles away, where she
cannot afford treatment for an inoperable tumor in her
kidney--turned in a masterly performance. The sophomore southpaw
struck out 11 and allowed just one hit as James Monroe Campus
High beat George Washington High 4-0. "He turned a lot of heads
today," said Monroe coach Mike Turo. "Now people will believe in
him instead of knocking him."

Almonte has been knocked since the summer of 2001, when he posed
as a 12-year-old and led the Rolando Paulino All-Stars to a
third-place finish in the Little League World Series. When SI
discovered that he was, in fact, 14, the team was disqualified
and Almonte became the poster child for all that is wrong with
kids' sports. Three years later Almonte, who moved from the
Dominican Republic in 2000 (after working in a bodega for a year
he entered eighth grade in 2001), resides with Paulino in a Bronx
housing project. Like most teens he loves video games and hanging
out at the mall on weekends. His best subject is history, and
next year he's taking public speaking to improve his English. But
baseball remains the center of his life. At a slight 5'11", 150
pounds, he has an 87-mph fastball and a sneaky curve. This year
he had a 1.38 ERA and struck out 95 in 60 2/3 innings, while
batting .449 with 58 RBIs in 44 games. "He is one of the best
sophomores in the country," said one National League scout at
Friday's game. "He just needs to grow and get stronger."

Almonte is already looking forward to a pro career, in part so he
can provide for his mom. Two days after winning the title Almonte
went public with a plea for funds to bring her to the U.S. to
receive the dialysis she needs. "I only hope that my mother can
wait until [I am drafted]," he said. "That is when I'll be able
to begin earning money to help her."

--Julia Morrill

COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 (ALMONTE) FOR YOU, MOM Despite his worries about his ailing mother, Almontepitched a gem of a game.