Words by Victor A. Rodriguez

Gotta go to Mo!!!  A familiar refrain any New York sports fan recognizes. It was the catchphrase used when the New York Yankees had a game on the line, and it needed to be saved. For nearly two decades, Mariano Rivera answered that call. Over a career that spanned 19 years, day-in day-out, Mariano Rivera was considered one of the most feared closers in Major League Baseball. In 2019 Rivera made more baseball history and kept winning off the field as well.

In January of 2019, what everyone already knew became official. Mariano Rivera was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Yet, it wasn’t just any election. Aside from gaining entry on the first year of eligibility, Rivera was unanimously inducted – meaning every baseball writer that cast a vote – did so for Rivera. He became the first player ever to do so. Of the accomplishment, Rivera maintained his trademark humility, telling Forbes.com “I wasn’t better than anybody else…But one thing I did, I did my best. I did my best for the game of baseball, to respect the game of baseball, to respect the other teams and my peers.”

Although we all know of the baseball accomplishments – the World Series rings, the stellar numbers, the numerous MVP awards. Off the field Rivera continues to keep winning. A well-known philanthropist, his Mariano Rivera Foundation is highly regarded for its contributions to various efforts throughout Panama and for its involvement in the Christian community.

And both the United States and Panama have taken notice.  In September of 2019 Rivera was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The highest honor that can be awarded to a civilian. The award was not without its controversy. Given the divisiveness of the current U.S. Administration, many wondered how and why Rivera could associate himself with it.  Ever the man of integrity Rivera responded as only he could telling Fox & Friends in a July interview, “He was a friend of mine before he became president…So, because he’s president I will turn my back on him? No…”

In 2019 Rivera’s native Panama also recognized his contributions to the world of sports and his country. In November President of Panama Laurentino Cortizo awarded Rivera with the Belisario Porras Order and appointed him as the new sports ambassador of the Central American nation.

Hall of Fame, sports ambassador for Panama, Presidential Medal of Freedom…. all in a day’s work for The Sandman.