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"Pudge" Rodriguez officially retires

After 21 years in Major League Baseball with six teams, catcher Ivan Rodriguez formally retired on Monday, returning to his original big league team in Texas to say goodbye after 14 All-Star games and 13 Gold Glove awards.

Rodriguez, who played a record 2,427 games behind the plate, said farewell at a news conference at the Ballpark in Arlington before the Texas Rangers' game against the Yankees on Monday.

"Today is a very hard day for me," he told reporters. "It's been a great, great run, 21 years have been beautiful."

Rodriguez, who announced last week he was retiring, played 12 seasons with the Rangers, breaking in with them as a 19-year-old in 1991.

The 40-year-old Puerto Rican also played for the Florida Marlins in 2003 when they won the World Series and from 2004-08 with the Tigers, competing in his second World Series with the Detroit team in 2006.

"I want to thank the fans here in Texas and all over baseball," said Rodriguez, who also played for the Astros, Yankees and the last two campaigns with the Nationals. "I just want to say thanks to all the organizations I played for."

Rodriguez is considered one of the best all-around catchers ever, thriving as a potent offensive player while garnering a record 13 Gold Glove awards for fielding.

He was named the 1999 American League Most Valuable Player after a season with 35 home runs, 113 runs batted in, 25 steals and a .332 batting average, and finished with a career batting average of .296 and 2,844 hits.

The strong-armed backstop threw out 41.7 percent of attempted basestealers, the best career figure since the statistic started being kept in 1974.

"When I think about Pudge...I think about the passion he had for the game, and I think about the pure joy that was evident every time he took the field and the way he played the game," said Tom Grieve, Texas general manager when the team signed him.

Said Rodriguez: "They (taught) me to play the game the right way, play the game hard and play the game all the way to the end.

"Twenty-seven hard outs. That's how I played the game for 21 years."

(Reporting By Larry Fine in New York; editing by Julian Linden)