2019 Great Immigrants Recipient

Mariano Rivera
Hall of Fame Baseball Player and Philanthropist
Born in:

Considered one of the best relief pitchers in history, Mariano Rivera grew up in Puerto Caimito, a fishing village in Panama, where he loved playing baseball with his friends. Their lack of equipment forced the youngsters to get creative: tree branches stood in for bats, gloves were fashioned out of milk cartons, and new balls were created by taping tattered ones with fishing nets. After finishing high school, Rivera joined his father to work as a fisherman. It was tough work, and a nearly fatal boat accident pushed him to pursue his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. While playing for the Panama Oeste Vaqueros, he was spotted by a Yankees scout. In 1990 Rivera signed on with the Yankees and left Panama for the first time in his life, despite speaking little English. Starting out in the minor leagues, he entered the majors in 1995, becoming a Yankees legend during his 19 years with the team. With 652 saves, Rivera holds Major League Baseball’s record for the most games saved during the regular season. He helped the Yankees win five World Series titles and was named World Series Most Valuable Player in 1999. In 2019 Rivera became the first player to be unanimously voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. After retiring in 2013, Rivera turned his focus to philanthropy. Partnering with faith-based institutions, his Mariano Rivera Foundation works to expand educational opportunities for underprivileged children in Panama and the United States. Rivera has funded church start-ups and rehabilitation projects, including the rehabilitation of an abandoned church in New Rochelle, New York, that is now home to Refugio de Esperanza (Refuge of Hope), where his wife, Clara, is pastor. The foundation is currently building a new Learning Center there with the hope that it becomes a national model. Explaining why he gives back, Rivera observed: “To have your child graduate from college, to have that knowledge and education, goes farther than anything else.… Families less fortunate need us. We want to be their voices.”