Panama’s Mariano Rivera, former New York Yankees player and baseball legend, hasreceived the Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump, who called him “the greatest pitcher in the history” of the sport.
“What a wonderful day,” Rivera said excitedly at the start of the country’s highest civilian award ceremony attended by his family, as well as vice president Mike Pence and first lady Melania Trump.
Rivera, 49, who became a U.S. citizen in 2015, underscored his “pride in being an American” and recalled his difficulty in integrating into the country when he arrived from Panama without speaking much English.
Before devoting himself to sports, he had worked with his father as a fisherman and studied to become a mechanic.
Rivera was the first Major League Baseball player to be unanimously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Born in Puerto Caimito, a small Panamanian town, Rivera was discovered at the tender age of 20 by a scout from the Yankees organization in Panama who discovered him and proposed that he play in the United States.
The rest is history.
With the New York team he won five World Series titles, was the most valuable player in the 1999 World Series, participated in 13 Star Games and in 2003 he was the most valuable player in the American League.
From that moment on, the Panamanian player became the best “closer” the team has ever had, until 2003, when he announced his retirement.
For his part, Trump said the former Yankees pitcher had a talent given “by God”.
“He may be the greatest pitcher in baseball history,” Trump said.
In addition to his sporting exploits, the governor highlighted Rivera’s faith by assuring that he was “a humble man guided by a deep Christian faith”.
In a statement issued by the White House, the presidential press office noted the work “off the field through the Mariano Rivera Foundation, through which it has offered education and inspiration to low-income children, supporting them to achieve a better future.
Rivera, a long-time personal friend of Trump, is the co-chair of the Presidential Council on Nutrition, Activity and Nutrition.
He is the fifth athlete to be awarded the Medal of Freedom since Trump became president in 2017 along with golfer Tiger Woods; basketball players Jerry West and Bob Cousy; and footballer Roger Staubach.
This award serves to highlight the work of individuals who “have made especially worthy contributions to the security of U.S. national interests, world peace; or with significant cultural, public or private backgrounds.
The award was created by President John F. Kennedy, who established the award of the Medals of Freedom in 1963, the same year he was assassinated.