Jason Varitek, the Red Sox' steady, respected catcher for more than a decade and a key figure in their two World Championships this century, has announced his retirement during a ceremony at JetBlue Park in Ft. Myers.
"I'm here to officially announce that I'm retiring as a player,'' Varitek said, after a three-minute introduction from Tom Werner.
Varitek, like recently retired teammate Tim Wakefield, had been offered a spring training invitation by the Red Sox. He said the decision to retire was not an easy one, but he knows it is the right one.
"After months of deliberating what to do, I've decided that it's best for me and family that I retire, that I retire a Red Sock,'' Varitek said. ''My decision to retire wasn't one that I took lightly in any sense of the word, nor did I want to do it more than once. This has probably been the most difficult decision I had to make in my career. But the opportunity to start and finish my major league career in one place is why I'm standing here today.
"Being a part of the Red Sox organization of the past  years is something I will always cherish,'' said Varitek, who turns 40 next month. "I thank all of you for giving me this opportunity, because it's taken all of you to make this happen.''
Varitek thanked his wife, Catherine, his daughters, agent Scott Boras, and his parents and four brothers. The stoic catcher became choked up as he thanked his numerous teammates for turning out to watch him say goodbye.
"Going into this last week,'' Varitek said before pausing, ''This last week leading up this has probably been one of the hardest weeks I've had to go through. And to have you guys here, I really appreciate it.''
Varitek was generous and thorough in thanking many who helped him along the way, including his Little League World Series coach, his coaches at Georgia Tech, and his catching instructor in the Seattle organization who helped him master the art of catching.
But Varitek, who came to the Red Sox organization along with Derek Lowe for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb in a 1997 trade that is one of the most lopsided in baseball history, had particular praise for what he called his "Red Sox family,'' thanking general managers Dan Duquette and Theo Epstein, coaches, in particular Gary Tuck, and the three managers he played for -- Jimy Williams, Grady Little, and Terry Francona.
"I probably would not be standing here if not for Jimy,'' Varitek said. ''Jimy one day walked up to me before a game started in New York after I first got called up and said, 'Tek, you're going to be a baseball player. You're going to have a long career.' It was just the vote of confidence I needed to get over the hump. I'll never forget him for it."
Varitek thanked the fans for "making Fenway such a special place to play,'' but said saying goodbye to his teammates was the hardest part.
"It's what I'm going to miss most,'' he said, pausing. "The hardest thing to do is walk away from your teammates, and what they meant to you. Thank you.''
At the ceremony, chairs are set up near home plate, the catcher's box being Varitek's office for his entire career. His jersey with the familiar "C'' on the left chest is draped over the podium.
"Winning the World Series here is unbelievable,'' said Varitek when asked if there was a particular moment that stood out. ''The uniqueness of [Jon] Lester's no-hitter. Clay's no-hitter.
"There are so many moments. I can probably now appreciate them more than when I played because I just kept going to the next thing."
He was asked about a moment that resonates with every Red Sox fan -- his fight with the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez during a 2004 regular-season game, a moment remembered as pivotal in the eventual run to their first World Series title in 86 years.
"I was just being a teammate,'' said Varitek, who interceded when A-Rod began jawing at pitcher Bronson Arroyo after being hit by a pitch. ''It wasn't something that you're proud off -- we've been down this road talking with my kids. It's just being a teammate. Things were going on, being said to my teammate, and it just happened to happen that way.''
Varitek is eventually expected to take a role within the Red Sox organization. As for his plans right now?
"What I plan on doing right now is going to a lot more soccer practices, mix in a few tennis matches for a little bit longer period of time," said Varitek, who said he did work out and consider coming to camp. "We're still discussing and as we continue to do this we'll hopefully find a role [where I can] stay involved.''
Varitek caught a record four no-hitters in his career: Hideo Nomo (2001), Derek Lowe (2002), Clay Buchholz (2007) and Jon Lester (2008). Renowned for his game-calling ability and respected by such accomplished pitchers as Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling, his value to the Red Sox exceeded the numbers he posted.
Still, the numbers are impressive for a catcher. Varitek hit .256 with 193 home runs and 757 RBIs in his career. He made three All-Star teams and won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 2005. He ranks ninth in team history with 1,546 games and has played the most in franchise history for a catcher.
"As I walk away from this game," he said upon closing his remarks. "I can look at the man in the mirror and be proud that I gave everything I had to this organization. And once again, I just want to say thank you.''