- The Washington Times - Monday, September 16, 2019

President Trump on Monday awarded the Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — to Mariano Rivera, the Hall of Fame pitcher who won five World Series titles as a lights-out closer with the New York Yankees.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Rivera entered the East Room to the foreboding strains of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” the entrance song Mr. Rivera used to travel from the bullpen to the mound during his stellar career with the Bronx Bombers.

“He is the most dominant relief pitcher in the history of baseball, and more than that, he has lived the American dream and shines as an example of American greatness for all to see,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Rivera shredded opposing hitters’ confidence — and often their bats — with his trademark cut fastball.

The president said he hasn’t seen anyone else deploy the pitch with great success.

“They may be throwing it, but it doesn’t work quite the same way,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Rivera thanked the president and recalled how, during his minor-league career in North Carolina, he went to bed crying because he couldn’t speak English. He begged his teammates to help him learn the language, and it worked.

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

Mr. Rivera is Major League Baseball’s career leader in saves, compiling 652 during his career with the Yankees from 1995 to 2013.

Mr. Rivera was the first player elected unanimously to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He entered the hall as the class of 2019, his first year of eligibility.

Mr. Trump retraced Mr. Rivera’s rise from humble roots in Panama, where he played as a kid with a cardboard glove, a bat made of tree branch and ball of rock, string and tape.

Mr. Rivera’s coach asked him to pitch in a pinch one day, and he blanked the opposing team.

“A legend was starting,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Rivera began his major-league career as a starting pitcher before transitioning to a reliever role and solidifying his legend as a closer.

Mr. Trump recounted highlights from his career, from stiff-arming the Boston Red Sox in the 2003 American League Championship Series to pitching the final innings in the old Yankee Stadium, making it “the house that [Babe] Ruth built and Rivera closed out.”

Mr. Rivera is also a philanthropist whose Mariana Rivera Foundation, a nonprofit, helps poorer kids in Panama and the U.S. He’s also built a community center and a church in New Rochelle, New York.

Mr. Trump has awarded the Medal of Freedom to a string of famous ex-athletes in recent weeks, including NBA greats Bob Cousy and Jerry West.

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