Trump awards Yankees legend Mariano Rivera the Medal of Freedom

Trump awards Yankees legend Mariano Rivera the Medal of Freedom
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to ex-New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera at the White House on Monday.

Trump called Rivera “maybe the greatest pitcher of all time” and offered a narrative of his early introduction to baseball in Panama and his career accomplishments.

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Trump also recognized Rivera, a friend and supporter of the president, for his achievements off the baseball field, noting that he started a foundation that provides scholarships and school supplies for underprivileged children.

“Throughout Mariano’s incredible career, he remained a humble man guided by a deep Christian faith that inspires everyone around him,” Trump said in remarks in the East Room.

“Mariano Rivera has made extraordinary contributions to American sports, culture and society,” Trump said, describing the legendary pitcher as an example of the American dream.

Trump on occasion broke from his prepared remarks, at one point noting that Rivera was the first player ever to be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by a unanimous vote.

“The Babe didn’t make it? What was the problem?” Trump joked, referring to baseball legend Babe Ruth.

Rivera also spoke briefly before Trump awarded him the Medal of Freedom. He thanked God, Trump and his family and friends and described the award as “an honor and a privilege.”

Rivera recalled his early frustrations of not being able to speak English in the U.S., and talked about how his teammates taught him the language during his first year of play.

“I was the happiest man in baseball,” Rivera said.

Trump and Rivera entered the East Room together as Metallica's "Enter Sandman" played in the background — a tribute to the ex-Yankees walk-on music during his professional baseball career.

Rivera has long been a supporter of Trump and has made prior appearances at the White House during the Trump administration, including participating in the White House Sports and Fitness Day last year. The legendary relief pitcher serves as co-chair of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.

Rivera was forced to defend his support for the president earlier this year, after an opinion article in The Daily Beast accused him of having “far-right politics” and serving “at the pleasure of a racist president.”

"He was a friend of mine before he became president,” Rivera said on “Fox & Friends” in July. "I respect what he does and I believe he's doing the best for the United States of America.”

The critical opinion piece coincided with Rivera’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame after spending his entire 19-season career with the Yankees.

Rivera holds the record for regular season saves with 652 and was a member of five World Series champion teams.

Rivera is originally from Panama but became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2015.

He is the latest professional sports player to be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Monday’s ceremony follows similar ceremonies for NBA legends Jerry West and Bob Cousy and golfer Tiger Woods.

Monday’s event was well-attended by Trump administration officials, including Vice President Pence, Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrFederal prosecutors interviewed multiple FBI officials for Russia probe review: report Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe Mulvaney ties withheld Ukraine aid to political probe sought by Trump MORE, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonTrump officials say aid to Puerto Rico was knowingly stalled after Hurricane Maria Yes, President Trump, we do have a homelessness crisis and you're making it harder for us to address New HUD rule would eliminate housing stability for thousands of students MORE, first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpMelania Trump breaks ground on new White House tennis pavilion Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Buttigieg unveils aggressive plan to lower drug prices | Supreme Court abortion case poses major test for Trump picks | Trump takes heat from right over vaping crackdown Kroger to stop sales of e-cigarettes at stores MORE and Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpCareer State official warned about Biden's son: report Trump speaks with NASA astronauts on all-female spacewalk Biden praises Buttigieg for criticizing GOP attacks: 'That's a good man' MORE, the president’s elder daughter and adviser.