Mariano Rivera receives Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump: 'Maybe the greatest pitcher of all time'

Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera -- a five-time World Series champ and the first man unanimously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame – received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony with President Trump on Monday.

Trump, a Yankees fan, praised Rivera, a Panama native who became a U.S. citizen, on Monday as “maybe the greatest pitcher of all time.”

“Throughout Mariano’s incredible career, he remained a humble man with a deep Christian faith. The Lord doesn’t care about wealth or fame. The Lord cares about goodness and love in our hearts,” the president said.

The White House ceremony made references to Rivera’s playing career, including playing Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Rivera’s theme song. Trump and Rivera walked into the East Room to the closer’s intro song.

President Trump presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera, in the East Room of the White House. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Trump presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera, in the East Room of the White House. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor and Rivera followed in the footsteps of other great athletes – Tiger Woods and Jerry West – who received the award earlier this year.

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Rivera played with the Yankees his entire career, from 1995 to 2013, establishing himself as the greatest closer in Major League Baseball history and becoming renowned for his performances in high-pressure situations.

Rivera recorded a record 652 saves during the course of his career, and led the majors in saves three times -- in 1999, 2001 and 2004. He finished in the top five of American League Cy Young Award voting five times.

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Aside from a devastating knee injury that cost him most of the 2012 season, Rivera routinely appeared in more than 60 games per year and only posted an ERA above 2.50 three times.

Rivera has been active during the Trump administration, voicing support for the president -- himself a New Yorker and a frequent visitor to Yankee Stadium -- at a time when many superstar athletes have regularly expressed their dismay (or worse) with the White House.

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“Mr. President Trump to me, he was a friend of mine before he became president,” Rivera said in an interview on Fox News in July. “So, because he's president I will turn my back on him? No. I respect him. I respect what he does and I believe he's doing the best for the United States of America.”

Rivera participated in the White House’s Sports and Fitness Day and sits as the co-chair of the President's Council on Sports, Fitness, & Nutrition.