Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera defends faith, support for Israel in response to attack

New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera
New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera announces he will retire at the end of the season during a press conference ahead of the Yankees' MLB baseball game March 9, 2013 at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. |

Legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Mariano Rivera has defended his Christian faith and support for Israel after an op-ed accused him of taking part in a “thinly veiled propaganda on behalf of a far-right government in Israel.”

Appearing on Fox News, Rivera opened up about his Christian faith and expressed solidarity with President Trump on issues such as the state of Israel.

“When it comes to Israel, as a Christian, if my Savior Jesus Christ, he's a Jew, so how am I going to turn my back and say, 'Oh, I won't support Israel,’” Rivera said on "Fox & Friends." 

Host Brian Kilmeade asked, “So your message to that writer is?” Rivera answered, “You have the power to say whatever you want to say, but that won't change my position, and that won't change my belief.”

His comments came in response to a question about an op-ed published by The Daily Beast over the weekend that accused the former Yankees player of having “taken part in thinly veiled propaganda on behalf of a far-right government in Israel, and gotten chummy with outright bigots and apocalyptic loons.” Author Robert Silverman specifically cited the athlete’s affiliation with the “openly extremist and Islamophobic Pastor John Hagee” and his multiple trips to Israel. 

Silverman also noted that “even though he’s never publicly given his endorsement,” the Hall of Famer’s “actions make it clear his sympathies lie with the Trump administration.”

Rivera explained to the “Fox & Friends” co-hosts that he was friends with Trump before he became president and continues to maintain that friendship.

"He was a friend of mine before he became president," Rivera said. "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."

Rivera, who was recently inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as the first player to be unanimously selected, also defended his Christian faith, explaining that “adversities” led him to the Lord. Prayer, he said, saved his unborn son who was expected to die after his pregnant wife contracted chickenpox.

“Age 24, my wife got sick; my boy got sick; she got chickenpox when he was in her womb for six months,” he recalled. “The doctor told her to stay away from people with chickenpox, and that thing was infected that year. He was supposed to be born with that vertebra thing open; his head would have been growing, growing, growing, until the point that he would die. But a friend of ours took us to — we were in Tampa, and they were at a women's conference, they took her and they prayed for her and he was healed.”

Kilmeade added that Rivera was supposed to be a starting pitcher initially, but wound up being the greatest relief pitcher of all time, earning the nickname “the Hammer of God” for his achievements on the mound.

When asked why, Rivera answered: “That’s a good question to ask the Lord when we go to Heaven. What happened? Because I was just happy to be in the big leagues regardless of what I was doing, as a starter, as a reliever, as a closer. Little did I know that the Lord has a lot of things for me in my path that I didn’t know.”

Known for his glove inscribed with Philippians 4:13, Rivera publicly thanked God for both his successes and failures on the field. In the 2001 World Series, he gave up the run that cost the Yankees the series. However, he pointed out that if the Yankees had won, his teammate Enrique Wilson would have been on a flight that ended up crashing and killing everyone on board. 

Because they lost the game, Wilson took an earlier flight. “I am glad we lost the World Series,” Rivera said, “because it means that I still have a friend.”

Rivera retired from baseball in 2003 to focus on evangelical work, according to The New York Times. 

"I love the game, but I love God more," Rivera said at the time. 

Shortly after his retirement, he founded Refugio de Esperanza, or Refuge of Hope Church, in New Rochelle, N.Y. Today, he leads the church along with his wife, Clara. The church describes itself as a “multicultural united body of believers committed to the revitalization of its community through acts of service and a genuine demonstration of God’s love.”

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