FORT MYERS, Fla. – Tim Wakefield never has been afraid to face a hitter with his knuckleball, kind of like he’s never been afraid to face the truth.

After all, he pitched in parts of three decades, won 200 games along the way, was a part of two World Series titles and above all else, realizes just how precious baseball careers can be.

So, with all that, as well as a ton of memories garnered over 19 years in the majors, the last 17 with the Boston Red Sox, an emotional Wakefield, 45, announced his retirement Friday.

“Now,” he said, “I’ll have a lot of time to really reflect on all of the accomplishments I have been able to do.”

That he played for so long seemed unlikely. Drafted as a first baseman by the Pirates in 1988, Wakefield was converted to a knuckleballer after just two seasons. But in April 1995, after going 5-15 with a 5.84 ERA in Triple A, Pittsburgh released him.

The Red Sox pounced, signing him six days later. And somehow he raced out to an improbable 14-1 start with Boston, finishing 1995 at 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA.

Now, all these years later he has to admit: His long career surprised even him.

“A little bit,” Wakefield said. “There were some years there where I didn’t know if I was going to come back or not. But I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to put this uniform on for such a long time and win two World Series for this great city. Now I can finally say it’s over.”

It wasn’t an easy decision, especially after he was offered a minor league contract with a chance to come into spring training and compete for a job.

“I’ve been wrestling with this decision a long time, this whole offseason,” he said. “I think the final deciding point was when (my wife) Stacy and I sat my two kids down and asked them what they wanted me to do. Like I said before, I never wanted to regret missing any part of their life, and I just think the time is now.”

The decision helps the team avoid a potentially awkward situation of having a veteran and fan favorite compete for and perhaps lose a roster spot.

“It’s a unique situation, where you sort of put the ball in his court whether to come into that type of situation. And frankly, we just wouldn’t do it in most cases,” General Manager Ben Cherington said. “For a guy like Wake, who has accomplished as much as he has, I think that could have been a challenge to be in camp without a little more definition as to the role.

“And Tim and I had conversations about that. I don’t know if that factored in at all. That’s something you’d have to ask Tim, but I could see that being a challenge potentially.”

Wakefield is the third-winningest pitcher in Red Sox history at 186-168. Cy Young and Roger Clemens have 192 wins.

As the oldest player in the majors last season, he was 7-8 with a 5.12 ERA in 23 starts and 10 relief appearances.

“I’m still a competitor but ultimately I think this is what’s best for the Red Sox,” Wakefield said. “I think this is what’s best for my family. And to be honest with you, seven wins isn’t going to make me a different person or a better man. So my family really needs me at home.”

Several Red Sox were in attendance at the press conference at Jet Blue Park, the Red Sox’s new spring-training home.

“I was happy to see that he did it the way he wanted to,” starter Jon Lester said. “I don’t think you can ask for anything more than that.”

Lester’s locker has been next to Wakefield’s since Lester broke into the majors in 2006.

“He was tough,” Lester said of his first impressions of Wakefield. “He’s probably one of the tougher veterans that we had when I first came up and that’s not a bad thing. I think he did a good job of being a tough leader and making sure he was vocally present. He made sure I stayed in line and did the right things both on and off the field. So I’m grateful for that.”


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