Trump announced The Sandman’s presence by saying, “I have a very, very special person who loves children, who I think one of the greatest athletes of all time. A lot of people say the greatest pitcher of all time. Known as a relief pitcher who could’ve been whatever he wanted.”
Rivera’s name started trending on Twitter immediately following Trump’s introduction on Thursday. Users online tweeted their surprised reactions after learning that Rivera was such a big supporter of the president. However, Rivera and Trump have been close friends for years.
I think the plan is that when Trump starts struggling, Rivera comes in and takes over the briefing https://t.co/3KxpreRcgT
— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) July 23, 2020
In July 2019, Rivera, who retired from baseball in 2013m served as co-chair of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, defended his support of Trump. “He was a friend of mine before he became president,” Rivera said during an appearance on Fox & Friends. “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.”
During an interview with ESPN ahead of tonight’s Opening Day Baseball game against the NY Yankees, @realDonaldTrump plays catch with Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher Mariano Rivera on the South Lawn of the White House. pic.twitter.com/IAVIYjMZmS
— Doug Mills (@dougmillsnyt) July 23, 2020
After seeing Rivera was at the White House briefing on Thursday, and not Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was selected to throw the first pitch during the Opening Day game between the Yankees and Nationals in Washington that night, MLB Network host Robert Flores tweeted, “Dr. Fauci is throwing a baseball tonight and Mariano Rivera is at a presidential briefing. 2020 continues to be weird y’all.”
On August 15, Trump has agreed to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Yankees’ first home game in the Bronx.
Trump Presented Rivera With the Presidential Medal of Freedom In 2019
In September 2019, President Donald Trump presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rivera, the 13-time All-Star who played all of his 19 seasons in the MLB with the Yankees. When Rivera received his medal, Trump discussed his “lethal” pitch and said, “It’s from God, it’s from God.”
During the ceremony in the White House’s East Room, Trump referred to Rivera as a prime example of the American Dream. Rivera, who is originally from Panama, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2015. He has also served on Trump’s Opioid Drug Abuse Commission.
“Throughout Mariano’s incredible career, he remained a humble man guided by a deep Christian faith that inspires everyone around him,” Trump said. “Mariano Rivera has made extraordinary contributions to American sports, culture, and society.”
Those in attendance during the Rivera’s medal ceremony included Vice President Mike Pence, First Lady Melania Trump, Attorney General Bill Barr, and Ivanka Trump.
Rivera Has Been Criticized For His Support of Trump’s Presidency
Congratulations to Mariano Rivera on unanimously being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame! Not only a great player but a great person. I am thankful for Mariano’s support of the Opioid Drug Abuse Commission and @FitnessGov. #EnterSandman #HOF2019💯 pic.twitter.com/reU1gKWHSQ
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2019
Rivera continued to defend his support of Trump following a highly critical op-ed published by The Daily Beast.
In the article, reporter Robert Silverman stated that Rivera has “served at the pleasure of a racist president, taken part in thinly veiled propaganda on behalf of a far-right government in Israel, and gotten chummy with outright bigots and apocalyptic loons. None of this will be inscribed on his Hall of Fame plaque.”
The first ballplayer in Hall of Fame history to receive 100% of the votes said in response to Silverman’s religious comments, “When it comes to Israel, as a Christian, if my Savior Jesus Christ, he’s a Jew, okay? So how am I going to turn my back and say, ‘Oh, I won’t support Israel.”
Trump Has Been a Self-Proclaimed Yankees Fan For Years
Trump, who once referred to the late Yankees franchise owner George Steinbrenner as his “best friend,” has said on numerous occasions the pinstripes were his favorite MLB team.
Former Yankees president Randy Levine said, “George always used to say we had a great record when Donald was at the table with him. And because George was superstitious, especially during the playoffs, he would always call Donald to make sure he was there. George believed he was good luck.”
Trump has attended numerous Yankees games over the years. He’s been spotted sitting next to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, and former New York mayor and his current personal lawyer, Rudy Guiliani. “[Trump] was just about at every Yankee game that I was at when I was the mayor,” Guiliani said. Guiliani served as mayor in New York from January 1994 to December 2001, which means Trump would’ve watched Rivera close numerous games. Rivera’s tenure with the Yankees went from 1995 to 2013.
In 2015, Trump said that if could any own any team in sports, that he would like to own the Yankees.