MINNEAPOLIS -- Former Twins closer Joe Nathan got about a minute into his retirement speech, thanking his family and friends, before he finally broke down into tears on Friday.
"I'm not supposed to cry right now, but here we go," said Nathan, holding back tears. "[My family] is the reason why I am where I am and why I have what I have. I also have to thank the Giants, Rangers, Tigers, Cubs and obviously the Minnesota Twins family for everything, and a ride that I could not have imagined I could've gone down."
Nathan, 42, officially retired after a 16-year career. He racked up 377 saves with a 2.87 ERA, and was named as an All-Star six times. Nathan received American League Cy Young and MVP Award votes twice and won a Rolaids reliever of the year award. He ranks eighth in Major League history in saves, and for any pitcher with at least 250 saves, Nathan's 89.3 save percentage is the best all-time.
Nathan, seated next to Twins general manager Thad Levine who was an assistant GM during Nathan's stint with the Rangers in 2012 and '13, signed a one-day contract to officially retire as a member of the Twins, where he played from 2004-11. Nathan threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Friday night's game against the Royals at Target Field.
"It's a fitting place for him to finish his career with a contract with the Minnesota Twins," Levine said. "That trade made in November of 2003 really vaulted this franchise forward and redefined what would become a decade of excellence for the Twins, and one we'd like to get back to."
Nathan began his career with the Giants, but he joined the Twins in one of most lopsided trades in baseball history, as catcher A.J. Pierzynski was sent to San Francisco for Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser. Nathan immediately made an impact, recording 44 saves with a 1.62 ERA, and was named an All-Star en route to finishing fourth in the Cy Young Award balloting. Nathan had just one career save with the Giants prior to the trade, but he went on to become the Twins' all-time save leader with 260, while converting 90 percent of his opportunities.
"He was great," said catcher Joe Mauer, who played with Nathan during his entire stint in Minnesota. "We felt pretty good about our chances when we gave him the ball. He was a great teammate and was a leader of the bullpen. Guys followed him since Day 1 when he came over."
Nathan was beloved in the clubhouse and it was evident on Friday with former teammates such as Justin Morneau, Glen Perkins, Drew Butera and Mauer in attendance. Morneau said he'd never seen a teammate work harder than Nathan, who took his job as closer very seriously.
"I think the most entertaining thing was trying to get him to sign a baseball after a game because his adrenaline would still be going so much, he'd still be shaking and it'd look like chicken scratch," Morneau said. "He was one of the best teammates I've ever had. He was a guy who was always there for you and a leader."
Perkins, a three-time All-Star with 120 career saves for the Twins, said Nathan took him under his wing when he was called up in '06 and was his throwing partner during the season. Perkins marveled at Nathan's work ethic, bouncing back from Tommy John surgery in 2010 and again in '15.
Perkins credited Nathan for helping him develop the right mentality to succeed, and he believes Nathan is the second-best reliever of his era behind only Mariano Rivera.
"The separation from Mariano to Joe, and Joe to everyone else was about equal, and it shows you how good he was because Mariano is first-ballot [Hall of Fame] no doubt," Perkins said. "Joe was underrated, playing in Minnesota and didn't get as many playoff opportunities. But his career stacks up with any reliever you can find."
Nathan is a lock for the Twins Hall of Fame, and he could garner consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame. But Nathan said he's more focused on coaching his 13-year-old son's baseball team than anything else right now, although he's open to helping the Twins in the future, potentially as a Spring Training instructor.
"This game has meant so much to me since before I could even walk," Nathan said. "Although I won't be playing at the highest level and competing, it'll still be a part of my life through my kids and following this great game of baseball. Hopefully, I can do some things to help the Twins, whether it's helping guys coming up. I know I will follow this game for the rest of my life."
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.