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It seems like the entire civilized world has got its knickers in a twist over the addresses and eligibility of a few players from the Harlem Little League team that has made it to Williamsports for the Little League World Series.
And now that all has been deemed well with the team by the Little League decision-makers, let us all take a collective breath and realize that there is no Danny Almonte-like story lying in the weeds.
Im sure everyone remembers Almonte, the standout hurler for the Little League team from the Bronx who was too old to legally play in the marquee 11- and 12-year-old Major Division.
The Rolando Paulino Little League All-Stars were permitted to play in Williamsport, their games televised nationally, as controversy swirled around Almonte and whether he was older than his submitted birth certificate.
Luckily, unlike the popular singing group Milli Vanilli, Almontes team did not win it all. Milli Vanilli returned the Grammy award they won for best new artist when the listening world found out they were lip-synching. The Rolando Paulino Little League All-Stars did not have to give back the championship trophy because they finished third. But all their records, including Almontes perfect game, were wiped away .
Media types from all over the nation perked up their ears when the first hint of controversy was uttered about the team from Harlem. But Williamsport put an end to any discussion quickly, declaring the team okey doke for tournament play.
Unfortunately, controversy surrounding Little League tournament play is not uncommon, even in Queens. Just this year a team from the Ozone Howard Little League was forced to forfeit a game for the very reason Harlem was called into question, because one of the team members lived outside the leagues boundaries in Woodhaven.
And it was not the only instance of a league being forced to forfeit a game in district play this year, according to Harold Weisman, district administrator for District 27, which covers southern Queens.
Weisman said that though he did not specifically recall Ozone-Howards forfeit, there are usually several per season in District 27, mostly because teams are unable to field nine players. This, he said, is due mostly to teams only being allowed to carry 14 players per roster and some players going on vacation.
In District 26, which covers northern Queens, no team had to forfeit a game this year, according to district administrator Abe Miller, but one team, the 15- and 16-year-old Elmjack Little League squad, did run into some controversy.
According to Miller, the birth certificate for one of the players from the District 26 championship team was called into question by its Westchester opponents during a regional match-up. Regional play follows district play and is a stepping stone toward the state championship.
Miller said the problem with Elmjack centered around one of its players birth certificate being in Spanish and none of the Westchester representatives were able to translate the document. Phone calls were made prior to the first pitch being thrown, Miller said, in a process that went all the way to Williamsport, the home of Little League headquarters.
The ruling came back that the player in question would be forced to sit out the game, though it would be played without Elmjack having to forfeit.
I find it hard to believe that parents, coaches, administrators or the players themselves would find it necessary to lie about a baseball game, that cheating in any form takes place on the Little League level. But thats just my being naive, I know.
The Danny Almonte fiasco proved that point loud and clear. Some people will do anything to get a leg up on the competition, whether it be employing the skill of a player too old or importing a superior player from another area.
This is Little League baseball, after all. Cheating should have no part in the equation. How can anyone derive joy from defrauding a system based around kids playing baseball. It is just too sickening to think about.
And because there are those who sink so low, the rules set up to govern Little League baseball are beyond strict and have very little flexibility to them.
Case in point is a local softball team that had to forfeit a game last year for bringing a younger child up to pitch and not adding her to the official roster. Or another local team a year ago which had to forfeit a game it had won 10-0 because the coach failed to get in one of his players, who was on deck when the game was cut short due to the mercy rule.
Its a shame that controversy and Little League have to be mentioned in the same breath, but there seems to be no end in sight. Even though Williamsport upheld the first challenge to Harlems roster, Bethlehem, Pa. filed another protest after losing to Harlem for the Mid-Atlantic region.
Hopefully, this controversy will fall away before the finals. Its bad enough Major League Baseball cant get its act together. With Little league tarnished, there might be little to no hope at all for our national pastime.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2002 Community Newspaper Group
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