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Little League star's age, U.S. status questioned



NEW YORK (CNN) -- As his team was given a key to the city Tuesday, the Little League fastballer who captured the nation's attention with his performance on the mound is facing new questions about his age and immigration status.

A U.S. official indicated that Danny Almonte's visa had expired, and he "is no longer in the country legally." Almonte, a native of the Dominican Republic, already faced questions about whether he was too old to play for the Rolando Paulino All-Stars of the Bronx in the Little League U.S. championship game.

Almonte's 70-plus-mph fastballs turned heads and dominated opposing batters during the Little League World Series. But records uncovered by Sports Illustrated in the Dominican Republic suggest that his actual age is 14 -- two years older than Little League rules allow.

The controversies did little to dampen a celebration Tuesday for the "Baby Bombers," who were welcomed home as conquering heroes. The team captured the city's hearts by reaching the U.S. championship game of the Little League World Series.

The team lost Saturday's U.S. championship game 8-2 to Apopka, Florida. The Florida team went on to lose the World Series final to a squad from Japan.

"This team has made us all proud," said Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, one of a host of dignitaries honoring the team. "On the field and off the field, they represented the Bronx and New York City well. "

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani presented players with keys to the city, putting his arm around each one, including Almonte, who drew loud cheers from the crowd.

Little League President Stephen Keener said Monday the organization would investigate the reported age discrepancies.

"Anyone who would knowingly undermine the trust in Little League is guilty of doing serious harm to children," Keener said.

Keener attended Tuesday's ceremony in New York honoring the team but did not mention the controversy in his remarks.

Star turn raised questions

Last week, Bronx league founder, president and All-Star coach Rolando Paulino showed reporters a copy of what he said was Danny's birth certificate. The typewritten birth date April 7, 1989, had been highlighted in yellow ink, and the document bore red and green stamps of authenticity. The certificate, referring to the system of ledgers used to record births in the Dominican Republic, was indexed as book 4, folio 54.

But according to record books examined by Sports Illustrated in his Dominican Republic hometown of Moca, Danny's father had registered his son's birth date as April 7, 1987 -- which means that the boy blowing away batters in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, last week was officially 14 years old.

The records showed Danny's birth was not registered until December 1994, but in the Dominican Republic it is not uncommon for parents to wait years before officially declaring the birth of a child.

His father, Felipe Almonte, could not recall when he registered his son's birth. He said that the Dominican government must have made a mistake.

Many foes had already begun raising doubts about Danny's age because of his dominance on the field. Danny won all four games he pitched in championship play, giving up only one unearned run and three hits, and struck out 62 of the 72 batters he faced.

He pitched a no-hitter in the Eastern Regional final on August 14 in Bristol, Connecticut, and threw a perfect game -- the World Series' first in 44 years -- against Apopka in round-robin play August 18.

'There must be a mistake'

When Paulino was told on Sunday of the 1994 Dominican birth record showing Danny's age as 14, he said, "The document we have here is official and legal. It's possible the reporter got someone with the same name. There must be a mistake."

Sports Illustrated found the birth record right where Paulino's document said it would be: book 4, folio 54. To eliminate the possibility that two sets of parents with identical names had sons with the same name two years apart, reporters compared the parents' personal identification numbers in each record. They matched.

But Paulino pointed out that if Danny Almonte is 14, then he and his older brother, Juan, would only be six months apart -- "So it cannot be true." Sports Illustrated did not locate a birth certificate for Juan Almonte.

The boy came to the United States with his father, Felipe, on a standard B2 visa in June 2000. Normally, the U.S. Immigration and Nationalization Service allows a visitor with a standard visa to stay for six months. A six-month extension can be sought, for a maximum one-year stay.

But the U.S. official said an extension of Danny's stay had not been sought, and the time that he "was legally permitted to stay in the country has elapsed."

A State Department official said last week that Danny's mother, Sonia Rojas, was denied a U.S. visa to come watch her son play in the Little League World Series because she couldn't prove she intended to return to her home in the Dominican Republic.

-- CNN State Department Producer Elise Labotte, and Ian Thomsen and Luis Fernando Llosa of CNNSI contributed to this report.







RELATED SITES:
• Little League Baseball
• U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service

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