President Donald Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera on Monday.
The Panamanian-American relief pitcher known by many nicknames on the field – including The Great One, The Sandman, The Hammer of God, and Mo – will be the seventh professional athlete to whom Trump has presented the medal, the highest civilian honor in the US.
The President and Rivera entered the White House East Room ceremony Monday afternoon to the pitcher’s signature walk-up song: Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”
“Mariano Rivera has made extraordinary contributions to American sports, culture and society. He is the most dominant relief pitcher in the history of baseball,” Trump said. “And more than that, he has lived the American dream and shines as an example of American greatness for all to see.”
The President also talked up some of Rivera’s most notable stats, praised Rivera’s Christian faith, and complimented his performance at the final game in the old Yankees Stadium – calling it “the house that Ruth built and Rivera closed out.”
Rivera delivered brief remarks, thanking God, the first and second families and his own family. He called the award “an honor and a privilege.”
“All I did is try to be the best and to be the best for America,” he said.
At the lectern, Rivera also emphasized to immigrants coming to the US that “learning English is the first thing that we should do.”
After a five-year stint in the minors, Rivera made his Major League Baseball debut in 1995. He played with the Yankees through his retirement in 2013.
Rivera, widely regarded as the best closer in baseball, helped the Yankees secure five World Series titles. He was named the World Series MVP in 1999 and named the American league Championship Series MVP in 2003. In January, Rivera became the first baseball player to be unanimously voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Trump, at the time of Rivera’s induction, said the pitcher is “not only a great player but a great person.”
Rivera is a co-chair for the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition. In that role, he accompanied second lady Karen Pence as part of a delegation attending the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi. He also co-sponsored a $50,000-per-couple, pro-Trump fundraiser in 2018, according to the New York Post.
Rivera, a Christian who has been outspoken about calling himself pro-Israel, has been unapologetic about his support for Trump, telling “Fox and Friends” in July that he respects the President.
“He was a friend of mine before he became president,” Rivera said. “So, because he’s president I will turn my back on him? No … I respect what he does. I believe that he’s doing the best for the United States of America.”
The Medal of Freedom is bestowed to “individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” according to the White House.