Nomar: A dream to retire with Red Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Longtime Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra retired from baseball on Wednesday morning, signing a one-day contract with the Red Sox in order to retire as a member of the team.

"I've always had a recurring dream, to be able to retire in a Red Sox uniform," Garciaparra said at a press conference at City of Palms Park. "Thanks to [owners] Mr. [John] Henry, Mr. [Tom] Werner, Mr. [Larry] Lucchino and [general manager] Theo [Epstein], today I get to fulfill that dream and retire as a Red Sox.

"Earlier today, I did sign a minor league contract to be a part of the organization once again. I was getting choked up then, and I'm getting choked up now. I've got the chills.

"But to be able to have that dream come true, I really just can't put into words because of what this organization has always meant to me, meant to my family, the fans. I always tell people Red Sox Nation is bigger than any nation out there, and to be able to tell people that I came back home to be back to Red Sox Nation is truly a thrill."

Garciaparra will join ESPN as a baseball analyst. He will be seen primarily on "Baseball Tonight" but will also serve as an occasional game analyst.

The 36-year-old Garciaparra spent the first nine seasons of his 14-year career in Boston, where he developed into a fan favorite, a perennial All-Star and the best shortstop in team history. He won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1997 and won batting titles in back-to-back seasons in 1999 and 2000. His career average with the Red Sox stands at .323, with 178 homers and 690 RBIs.

He stressed Wednesday that fan support was one of the biggest reasons why it was so important to him to retire in a Red Sox uniform.

"Everywhere I go I get so many [Red Sox fans] come to me and tell me 'Thank you. We miss you. We still love you,'" Garciaparra said. "And it's so genuine and the feeling is mutual. Hopefully from my actions throughout my career in that uniform and hopefully my actions today again tell them what it means to me."

Lucchino echoed those sentiments from the team's perspective.

"We welcome you home," Lucchino said at the press conference. "It gives us enormous pride to recognize the respect you have to the organization, the connection you feel to the organization, the connection you feel to our fans and Fenway Park, and I'm here to fell you the feelings are mutual. When the history of the Boston Red Sox is written again, there will be a very large and important chapter devoted to Nomar Garciaparra."

Garciaparra said he decided to retire when he realized this offseason that due to a condition that has limited him over the years, he "just couldn't work out the way I like to work out, and that really was my ultimate decision."

"There was a time this offseason when I was getting ready and I remember coming home and looking at my wife and going 'My tank is empty,'" Garciaparra said. "And that for me was an absolute thrill to be able to say that. I really just gave everything I could to this game."

Garciaparra's wife, former soccer star Mia Hamm, attended the press conference with the couple's twin daughters.

Garciaparra was famously traded to the Chicago Cubs by Epstein at the trade deadline during the 2004 season, a controversial move that resulted in the addition of Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera, who helped to spark the team to its first World Series title in 86 years.

"I felt like I was there," Garciaparra said, referring to the championship celebration. "In Boston there's something greater than an individual player winning a World Series. When I was there I realized there's something bigger than us winning a World Series. It's winning a World Series for these people."

Epstein, who grew up in the Boston area, was responsible for the trade that dispatched Garciaparra.

"We've been fortunate over the years to maintain a relationship after the trade," Epstein said. "I think both of us understood at the time that it wasn't about Nomar and it wasn't about me. It was just baseball trades that happen. They're about what's going on with the team at the time and certain things that had to happen. But, it didn't change what Nomar meant to the Red Sox."

Garciaparra re-signed with the Cubs in 2005, but injuries limited him to just 62 games that season. He played with the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2006-08 and was a part-time player with the Oakland Athletics last season.

He finished his career with 229 home runs, 936 RBIs and a .313 batting average in 14 seasons.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona's experience with Garciaparra bookends the beginning and end of the infielder's time with the Red Sox. Francona managed Garciaparra in the Arizona Fall League in 1994, after Garciaparra's first season with the Red Sox organization and was managing Boston when he was traded in 2004.

"The time I had him in the Fall League was one of the highlights of my career,'' Francona said Wednesday. "[In 2004,] I think he was kind of Boston'd out. It kind of wore on him for whatever reasons. Sometimes it's just time to move on.''

The biggest thing that caught Francona's eye in the Fall League? "A 20-year-old kid personally passing out Christmas cards three weeks early. I hadn't even bought my family presents yet.

"He wasn't pulling the ball yet, everything was to right-center, but you could see it coming.''

Francona recalled a meeting he had with Kevin Kennedy, who was managing the Red Sox at the time, and Tim Johnson, one of his coaches, and being asked whether he thought Garciaparra could play second base.

"I said I don't know who you have at short, but whoever it is you might want to move him.''

In 1997, when Garciaparra made it to the big leagues, new manager Jimy Williams did just that, prompting a brief walkout from camp by John Valentin, who reluctantly gave up short and played second and third.

Francona, who was in his first season as manager with the Red Sox, said he didn't fully realize how iconic Garciaparra was in Boston until after the trading-deadline deal that sent Nomar to the Cubs.

"When it was over, I remember laughing with Theo [Epstein], 'I was behind you every step of the way, not in front of you.'''

"He was a Red Sox for a long time and I think he'll always be remembered as a Red Sox," said pitcher Tim Wakefield, who was Garciaparra's teammate for the shortstop's entire stay in Boston. "For the organization to sign him to a one-day deal and have him retire as a Red Sox is pretty special. I'm really happy for him. I wish he was still playing but sometimes our careers take different paths."

Garciaparra threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays, with Jason Varitek catching. Garciaparra and Varitek were teammates in Boston and at Georgia Tech.

Garciaparra was in the thick of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry but always earned the respect of his opponents in New York.

"I always enjoyed playing against Boston because of Nomar," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "I used to enjoy being mentioned with him."

Added Alex Rodriguez: "I love Nomar. He's a great player and a friend."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.