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Almonte's age joins line of lies

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By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 5, 2001


When the truth has been sacrificed, you are left to believe whatever you wish. Feel free, then, to label Danny Almonte however you wish.

Is he a liar? A cheat? A ringer? Is he the pawn of greedy adults? The symbol of innocence lost? Is he 12? Is he 14? Is he old enough to know better?

Go ahead. Shake your head. Frown. Point. Blame.

Then acknowledge this:

From the looks of things, young (?) Danny is going to grow up to be a great American.

To be honest -- and don't you think it's time someone was? -- things don't look good for Almonte these days. Each new day seems to uncover another lie. Now, it turns out Almonte wasn't even in the country for most of the Little League season, which would have made him ineligible even if he hadn't been two years too old, and which meant everyone in the whole darned league knew it.

"Father, why are there not enough candles on my birthday cake?"

"Be quiet, my son, or you won't get that glove you wanted."

"Father, what if they fail to recognize me from the first part of the season?"

"Just tell them you played right field. And you played deep. Real deep."

"Father, if I am caught, do I still get to go to Yankee Stadium?"

"Sure, son. But only for Old Timer's Day."

What news breaks today? That Almonte is really a 37-year-old father of two who once pitched in the Kansas City Royals organization? That he works as a bartender? That his driver's license is expired? Or that Danny Almonte is a fictional character played by a method actor named Tab Jernigan? Whatever it is, expect it to shatter truth as you know it.

The ultimate lie, of course, is this somehow separates Almonte from his new country. Sadly, it doesn't.

Look around. We have heard so many lies from so many directions we no longer take offense at the sound. Our president lies to us. Our employers. Our employees. Our co-workers. People lie about their taxes, about their resumes, about their age. They lie about their golf games and their income and about where they were last night. They lie for comedy (Jon Lovitz) and for commercials (David Leisure as Joe Isuzu) and for convenience (every athlete who ever failed a drug test).

Jim Harrick, the former UCLA coach, lied about his expenses. Nina Shahravan, who accused two Dallas Cowboys of rape, lied to the police. Eugene Robinson lied when he said he was going to the 7-11 to pick up some milk. Coaches lie to recruits. Recruits lie to coaches. The check is in the mail. I'm from your government and I'm here to help you. The beat goes on. Speaking as a nation, our pants are on fire.

Colonel Nathan Jessup, the wonderful character played by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, suggested we could not handle the truth. That's not quite right. Frankly, we just can't find it anymore.

Last week, Jets punter Tommy Parks, who swears that is his real name, admitted he had been lying about his age. He isn't 29, as he said this year. Or 30, as he said last. He's almost 33. Also, and this is not a joke, he likes it when people call him Elvis.

Also last week, Al "Pinocchio" Martin, the Mariners outfielder, talked of his glory days as a player for the Southern Cal football team. Martin told the story of a rough tackle against Michigan's Leroy Hoard. Turns out, Southern Cal didn't play Michigan while Hoard was there. Not only that, but Southern Cal said Martin never played football for the Trojans.

Oops.

Then there was Tim "Rambo" Johnson, the former manager of the Blue Jays. Johnson used to tell his team stories from Vietnam. But he never was there, and Pvt. Ryan remained unsaved. Not only that, but Johnson also had claimed to be an All-American in high school who turned down a scholarship from UCLA, where he would not have played against Martin.

Oops.

A decade ago, there was a trap shooter at MacDill Air Force Base named Jimmy. He told a grand story of how he was giving up the Olympics to stay home with an ailing wife. ... except Carter hadn't qualified for the Olympics. He didn't even attend trials.

Oops.

What is happening here? Why do people need to fluff themselves up beyond their own, often impressive, accomplishments? Often, it isn't even about obscuring the truth. It's about taking it, shaping it and making it better. When reaching the big leagues isn't enough, when a player has to concoct a fable of how he got there, it is sad.

So you are a 14-year-old boy, going on 12, and you see all of this in your new country. What are you going to do? Probably, you're going to throw a fastball right at the head of the truth and make it get out of the way.

No, morality did not die at the hand of Danny Almonte. In a sad story that grows sadder, that may be the worst news of all.

Welcome to America, Danny. You're going to fit in just fine.

Fudge when you're asked about your birthplace and, someday, you could be president.

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