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Longtime Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek announces retirement

Jason Varitek the long-time catcher and captain of the Boston Red Sox, officially called it quits on Thursday, ending his 15-year career in an emotional news conference on the diamond at the team's spring training camp in Florida.

"The opportunity to start and finish my major league career in one place meant more to me," said Varitek, who had to stop several times to collect himself. "To be a member of this club the past 14 years is something I truly cherish."

Varitek caught 1,546 games, the most of any Red Sox catcher. He was a tenacious competitor, an inspiring leader and handler of pitchers, and a clutch hitter from both sides of the plate.

The three-time All-Star had 193 career home runs, a .256 batting average, drove in 757 runs and caught an MLB record four no-hitters.

After the team ended their World Series jinx with a four-game sweep of the St Louis Cardinals, Varitek became a free agent.

The Red Sox kept him on with a four-year contract worth $40 million and he was named team captain - only the third player so honored by Boston since 1923, following Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski (1969-1983) and Jim Rice (1986-1989).

Varitek, who saw less time behind the plate the last two seasons, appeared in 68 games last season batting .221 with 11 home runs and 36 RBI.

"My team mates, is what I'm going to miss most," said Varitek, who wiped away a tear. "The hardest thing to do is to walk away from your team mates and what they've meant to you over the years. Thank you."

(Reporting By Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)