Trump awards Yankees legend Mariano Rivera the Medal of Freedom

President Trump 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.

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 Barr, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, first lady Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump, the president's elder daughter and adviser.