WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump recruited Baseball Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera to help mark baseball’s opening day with a group of Little League players at the White House on Thursday.
Trump said the return of sports was “a tremendous thing psychologically for our country” in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rivera made a surprise appearance at Trump’s late afternoon virus briefing. The president said the two of them would be heading outside to see “some beautiful young Little Leaguers outside with a great future ahead of them. They’re already practicing on the front lawn of the White House.”
Rivera, the former New York Yankees relief pitcher and a Trump supporter, looked on as the president announced he was canceling the Florida portion of the Republican National Convention next month due to the coronavirus.
After the briefing, the two joined a group of about 15 young players who were playing catch on the South Lawn. One of the players gave the president and Rivera a glove and ball, and they soon joined in. “There was nobody like Mariano,” Trump said as the two tossed the baseball back and forth.
A reporter noted that Washington Nationals left fielder Juan Soto has tested positive for Covid-19 and asked Trump if he was worried about the players coming back too quickly. Trump said he was not. “They’re going to be able to take care of it,” Trump said.
After the round of catch, Trump, Rivera and the Little League players and their coaches took a team photo.
Trump praised Rivera’s work with children and his records as a closer for the president’s favorite team. He has previously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rivera.
Rivera’s old team was in Washington to open up Major League Baseball’s abbreviated season Thursday night against the defending champion Nationals. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, threw out the ceremonial opening pitch.
Trump, for his part, said he’d been invited to toss out the opening pitch on Aug. 15 at Yankee Stadium.
The president praised Major League Baseball for moving forward.
“I think Major League Baseball is setting an example by playing to empty stadiums. And so are other sports,” Trump said, mentioning football and golf, among others. “We want to get back to normal. The key is to get back to normal.”