Jake Westbrook said Friday he has decided to retire after a 13-year career in the major leagues, the final 3 1/2 with the Cardinals. (File)

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By Rob Rains

When Jake Westbrook picked up his two oldest sons from school one day last week, he had something special to tell them.

After being away from home for much of their lives, Westbrook told 8-year-old Parker and 6-year-old Keaton that he was staying home, having made the decision that it was time to retire from baseball.

“I told them Daddy wasn’t going to play anymore,” Westbrook said Friday from his home in Danielsville, Ga. “They were disappointed and sad, but I told them, ‘Daddy wasn’t going to play forever.’ Keaton said, ‘We’re glad you’re going to be home forever.’ That kind of choked me up, but made me feel good knowing they are happy Daddy is going to be home and not traveling anymore. I’ve got to make up for a lot of the stuff I’ve missed.”

The 36-year-old Westbrook said his decision came gradually. He went into this off-season preparing to pitch for another year, but did not receive enough interest from teams for him to decide it was worth it.

“The interest that I was getting wasn’t significant enough for me to go through the grind of another year and be away from my family,” Westbrook said. “I was kind of 50-50 on whether I wanted to play anyway. I’m good with the decision.

“I’m excited about the next part of my life and that’s being home with the kids and my wife Heather and spending time with them and going to all of the things I haven’t had a chance to do over the last 18 years in the spring and summertime. Being home is going to be fun.”

The Westbrook’s have two other children, a daughter, Harper, who is 3, and another son, 16-month-old Paxton.

Westbrook spent the final three and a half years of a 13-year major-league career with the Cardinals, having been acquired during the 2010 season from the Cleveland Indians. A first-round pick of the Colorado Rockies out of high school in 1996, Westbrook retired with a 105-103 career record.

He made his major-league debut for the Yankees in 2000 and spent the majority of his career with the Indians.

“I’ve been super blessed with the opportunity I was given out of high school in 1996, not knowing what to expect as an 18-year-old kid from a small town,” Westbrook said. “I was blessed to play the game I love for as long as I did and to have the support I have gotten, first and foremost from my wife Heather. I know my oldest boys will remember a good part of it. It’s been fun.

“I made my debut at old Yankee Stadium and that’s something I will never forget, even if I didn’t pitch as well as I would have liked. Achieving the goal of making it to the major leagues, and having the Indians give me an opportunity to be a starter… getting traded to the Cardinals was probably the best thing that happened in my career. It’s such a storied organization and the atmosphere I witnessed there, and being in the playoffs all those years. Getting a chance to pitch in the World Series and winning game six in 2011 was pretty special and something I will always have.”

Westbrook said it was a different feeling not having to pack up and head for spring training earlier this week.

“It will be a little tough transition for me but I’m looking forward to all of the other things I will get an opportunity to do being home with the kids, helping coach their baseball and basketball teams and whatever sport they want to play,” Westbrook said. “I will be here all the time.”

The only disappointment in the timing of Westbrook’s decision is that he is missing out on the chance to play ping-pong on a new table the Cardinals have installed in the clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium this spring.

“I was talking to Matt Holliday last night and I told him I would have loved to have been there playing with them and having fun like I always did,” Westbrook said. “Just goofing around with the guys is something I’m going to miss, having fun, making people laugh and laughing with them.

“I’ve played Matt and Seth Maness and a few of the other guys (in ping pong) and Maness is going to be tough to beat. He’s an unbelievable player. I think I’ve only beaten him once or twice in more than a handful of games. I told Matt if they need anybody to come down there and give them a little competition to let me know and I might find my way down there.”

Thinking of all of his friends in the Cardinal clubhouse, and throughout baseball, brought a smile to Westbrook’s face.

“The friendships I have made and all of the great guys I’ve come across, hopefully I will be in touch with them for the rest of my life,” Westbrook said. “That’s what it’s all about. It was a gift from God to be able to do what a little boy dreams of doing, and to do it for as long as I have is awesome and a huge blessing.”