- MORESPORTS - Coaches hire investigators to probe Bronx pitcher

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Friday, August 24
Updated: August 25, 3:11 PM ET
Coaches hire investigators to probe Bronx pitcher

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- With Danny Almonte on the mound, the Rolando Paulino team from the Bronx seems too good to be true.

Believe it -- the New York team is that good and hasn't broken any rules about age limits or recruiting, according to Little League World Series officials.

Questions and rumors continue to swirl about Almonte and his teammates even as the players prepare for Saturday's U.S. championship game.

The rumors -- coming, it seems, from parents and coaches of teams that have lost to the Bronx -- started last year, when the Bronx team reached the regional championship game for the second straight year, and intensified this year with the team's continued success.

"I try not to pay attention to it," said Bronx outfielder Carlos Garcia. "For the people who don't like it that we're here, there's nothing we can do about that."

The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., reported Friday that a Staten Island, N.Y., group of parents, coaches and residents spent more than $10,000 on private investigators trying to prove that the Bronx team used ineligible players. That investigation, and another by Pequannock, N.J., Little League manager Doug Bencsko, turned up nothing.

Bencsko said the problem is that Little League makes accusers prove a player is breaking the rules instead of making the player prove eligibility.

"You can't prove something when you're playing in a tournament in Connecticut," said Bencsko, whose son, Justin, played for Pequannock.

"What can I do? You think I don't get tired of this?" an exasperated manager Alberto Gonzalez said Friday, a day before his team faces Apopka, Fla., in a rematch of last week's game in which Almonte pitched a perfect game.

Almonte, the focus of many of the rumors, won't be on the mound Saturday, however. He pitched his team to a 1-0 victory Thursday night over Oceanside, Calif., and Little League rules prohibit pitchers from throwing consecutive games.

In Little League, geographical boundaries keep teams from recruiting, and age limits result in the replacement of most players each year. As a result, it's uncommon for a team to advance far into the playoffs year after year.

Lance Van Auken, spokesman for Little League Inc., said similar accusations were made when Toms River, N.J., made consecutive Little League World Series appearances in 1998 and '99, and when Long Beach, Calif., won titles in '92 and '93.

On age limits, players at this year's tournament cannot turn 13 before Aug. 1, 2001.

Van Auken said Bronx team officials had provided documentation every time they have been asked and that the complaints amounted to little more than "accusations and innuendo."

"We have to deal with evidence, and every bit we've seen has satisfied our requirements. We've done everything but cut these kids in half and count the rings," Van Auken said.

Both Bronx and Apopka are trying not to let the controversy overshadow the championship game.

"I've heard plenty of the rumors that are going around," Apopka manager Bob Brewer said. "I'm sure that Little League has done everything in its power to make sure these kids are legal to be here and of age to be here."

The first game was a nightmare for Apopka, a power-hitting team that couldn't touch Almonte. This time, it will face Luilli Vinas (1-0), who had eight strikeouts but gave up three hits and four runs against Iowa.

"Danny put us in a real big funk the first night we were here. It took us two and a half games to get back to where we were," Brewer said. "The other guys throw the ball hard, but not as hard as Danny."

Pitching for Florida will be Stuart Tapley (1-1), who has given up just two hits in 10 innings at the tournament. In the previous matchup, Tapley walked in the first run and gave up a grand slam in the first inning, but allowed only one hit after that.

"I've been watching them all four games. Their defense is sharp and their pitching is good," said Gonzalez. "They are the team to beat in this tournament."

The international championship Saturday night features Willemstad, Curacao, from the Netherlands Antilles against Japan's Tokyo Kitasuna. In pool play, Japan beat Netherlands Antilles 4-2, but didn't score after the first inning.

"The difference in that game was just one pitch -- a hanging curveball that they hit out," said Mark Van Zanten, manager for the Netherlands Antilles.


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