WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — It’s the bottom of the 9th and there’s a call to the bullpen. Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” begins playing. Jogging into view is New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera but instead of stepping on a mound, it was a stage in the East Room of the White House and instead of being handed a baseball, he received one of the nation’s highest civilian honors.
“Maybe the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball, Mariano Rivera,” President Donald Trump said as he awarded the hall-of-famer with the Presidental Medal of Freedom.
Trump said Rivera’s dominance on the mound was mesmerizing and when he stepped onto the field, the game was more often than not closed out with a victory for the Yankees.
“I knew he was the best but this is crazy: Mariano broke the Major League Baseball record for the most games finished and saves made,” Trump added.
Rivera was also known for being the last player to wear the number 42, which has since been retired across the league in honor of Jackie Robinson.
Rivera saved a record 652 games over the course of his career and was feared by batters for his cut fastball. At Monday’s ceremony, he spoke about his struggles as he first arrived in the US from his native Panama.
“I was able to realize that I can do something for others because I knew the language,” Rivera said.
In his 19 seasons in the MLB, Rivera established himself as the greatest relief pitcher of all time. Off the field, he established a foundation for empowering children in need to achieve a better future.
“I’m proud to be an American,” Rivera added.
Rivera is the latest athlete to receive the Medal of Freedom, which was recently awarded to Jerry West, Bob Cousy, and Tiger Woods.