Andrew Cohn’s new 30 for 30 short film, Kid Danny, which was posted today on Grantland, tells the story of Danny Almonte, a Dominican-born little league pitcher whose unstoppable slingshot arm helped his team from the Bronx reach the U.S. Little League World Series Championship in 2001.
Almonte was an absolute force on the pitcher’s mound, striking out 62 of the 72 batters he faced, and pitching the first perfect game in Little League World Series competition since 1957. His team became known as the “Baby Bombers” for their proximity to the Yankees, and even received a key to the city from then-mayor Giuliani.
Along the way, however, Almonte’s record-setting performances raised questions about his age and ultimately his eligibility. His parents’ claimed that their son had been born in 1989, as shown on his birth certificate, making him 12 at the time and of legal age to compete. (Little League rules stated then that a player born before August 1, 1998 was prohibited from competing.)
His birth certificate was later revealed to have been falsified, and a Sports Illustrated investigation reported that Almonte had been 14 years old during the 2001 Little League World Series. A reporter had secured records from the hospital in Moca, Dominican Republic where Almonte was born, which proved that Almonte had in fact been born on April 7, 1987, making him too old to compete at the time. The Dominican public records office later confirmed this, and Almonte and his team were stripped of their wins during the competition.
Since then, little has been written about Almonte, save for a few articles published when ‘Kid Danny’ was hoping to be drafted by Major League Baseball. (He wasn’t.)
Cohn, a filmmaker, says that Almonte’s story would return to his mind every year when the Little League World Series rolled around.
“I’d be like, ‘What ever happened to that Danny Almonte kid?’” Cohn told me.
He fished around on the Internet but found very little new information except for one interview. Cohn reached out to Almonte through the reporter and told him about his desire to make a film about his experience. He also sent along a copy of his documentary Medora, about a small town basketball team in Indiana, which Almonte and his wife enjoyed.
Cohn and Almonte quickly struck up a friendship, spending time together over eight months. Cohn would visit with Almonte’s family and take his girlfriend to see the former phenom’s weekend baseball games in East New York last summer—without a camera.
“We’d go and get a beer afterwards and just talk about doing a film and what that film would be,” says Cohn. “Slowly we go to know each other just as people. You really have to earn people’s trust in a genuine and sincere way. You can’t really fake sincerity.”
Once he’d established that relationship, Cohn took his idea to make a film about Almonte to ESPN. “Their immediate reaction was like, “That’s great, so do we but no one’s been able to get a hold of the guy, he kind of vanished.”
With Almonte on board, the project moved forward. Cohn says that his goal as a filmmaker was to communicate the emotional core of Almonte’s personal story, and how traumatizing the experience was for him. All for a father’s wish to have his son make it in the U.S.
“For Danny, he was a 14-year-old kid in the middle of his huge firestorm,” says Cohn. “It’s a very personal film.”
Kid Danny will air on ESPN on Tuesday, August 19.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.