SAN FRANCISCO — Thursday morning, Giants director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi flew into SFO.

But when he got off the plane, he floated around the terminal. He didn’t want to leave the airport, get into a car, and head to Oracle Park for Buster Posey’s retirement press conference.

No, no, no. That would make it “real”.

Zaidi wasn’t the only Giants fan feeling some seriously conflicting emotions around Posey’s retirement ceremony Thursday.

There’s confusion mixed with gratitude; a selfish desire to keep one of the greatest Giants of all time in uniform, mixed with a cascading respect for everything the San Francisco catcher did in his career.

But sadly — and happily — it’s true: Posey’s time on the diamond is done. Thursday was both a farewell and a celebration of one of the greatest Giants of all time.

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Posey, 34, admitted Thursday that he could have played longer, “if he wanted to,” but ultimately that was not the case. After opting out of the 2020 pandemic season, he returned to the Giants expecting the 2021 campaign to be his last season.

But even as he posted an All-Star campaign — the seventh of his career — and led the Giants to an incredible division title behind 107 wins, he never wavered in his decision.

“Playing the way I did didn’t sway me. That’s part of the reason I feel at peace with my decision,” Posey said Thursday.

That peace came through Thursday. He was emotional but steady in his final goodbye. There was a bit of early emotion, but otherwise, Posey was deliberate in announcing a decision he made months ago but only finalized days ago. He was committed to thanking everyone he could.

Yes, the man we saw behind and at the plate for years was anything but an artificial character. He was all class throughout.

Ultimately for the Giants’ catcher, the pain that came with being behind the plate for more than a decade was a big part of the decision. More important was his desire to spend more time with his wife, his four children, and his extended family.

Posey was the heart and soul of the Giants for the last 12 seasons. When he arrived in San Francisco in 2009, everything changed for this franchise.

Team president Larry Baer called the story — which began with the Giants drafting Posey No. 5 overall in the 2008 draft — a “fairytale” with “golden bookends” Thursday.

Posey made it clear, though, that it wasn’t he who changed the Giants, rather it was the Giants who changed him.

Posey could have been drafted by any other team in baseball in 2008. He expressed gratitude Thursday that the Giants were the team that selected him.

“It doesn’t take long to realize some [organizations] are better than others,” Posey said.

Just as some franchise cornerstones are better than others.

There’s no question Posey was the best of the best. Not only was he a great player (and yet, still, underrated), he led off the diamond as well.

Zaidi, who only had a short professional relationship with Posey, seemed the most moved by the catcher’s retirement. I don’t think that was because he now needs to find a new starting catcher (though it’s part of the equation, no doubt).

In addition to his airplane story, Zaidi shared Thursday how Posey and he first met.

Remember: Zaidi came to the Giants from the Dodgers. He was a quant taking over a team that was run (at that point into the ground) in an old-school way.

His analytical background, his Dodgers’roots, and, sadly, the fact that Zaidi was baseball’s first Muslim team president, did not make his welcome to the Bay Area warm. It left Zaidi “rattled”.

“It was a real adjustment period for me,” Zaidi said Thursday.

Posey reached out. Not just with a text message saying “congrats”, but with a request to meet.

A few days later, the two spent hours in a backroom of Oracle Park. Posey feeling the new boss out a bit, and Zaidi sharing his vision for the team with the man who was integral to the greatest era of Giants baseball since the team moved to San Francisco.

Posey could have sabotaged it all. Deemed Zaidi unworthy or unfit. After all, the Giants were Posey’s team and Zaidi was an outsider.

Instead, he bought in. A few years later, that vision led to the winningest regular season in Giants history — the starting point of what could be another great era of San Francisco baseball.

But it was that initial acceptance that resonated with Zaidi.

“There’s nothing else that anyone could have done to make me feel more comfortable,” he said. “I truly felt like I became a Giant.”

And in the years to come, when we look back on Posey’s great career, I believe we’ll be thankful that he saw it fit to exit in this manner — that he didn’t play through the pain, putting his love of the game aside for the cash that comes with it.

Posey didn’t overstay his welcome. There were no subtle nudges out the door from management. Quite the opposite — Zaidi asked Thursday if Posey’s retirement was a “definite, sure thing?”

And thank goodness there was no late-career mercenary turn. Who would want to see Posey in a Miami Marlins uniform or as a backup for the Yankees?

No, Posey will go out the same way he came in: great.

“I think that’s important to me,” Posey said. “All of us who have been around the game for a long time — unfortunately you do see players who get to the end of their career, and the game does get hard. You do tend to get bitter sometimes. It doesn’t happen to everybody. But again, [I’m] just grateful.”

Grateful, namely, for the same reasons the fans are so grateful to him.

“We got to win three world championships. I got to be part of the first one ever and two more,” Posey said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”

Posey will move back to Georgia. The team will have a role for him in the near future — one of those retainer gigs so many other exiting Giants have taken on their way (willing or not) out the door.

He leaves as a three-time champion, a Rookie of the Year, an MVP, a superstar, and a San Francisco and Bay Area icon.

Yet with his final words as a Giants player, he couldn’t have been more humble. You’d have thought he was just a utility infielder.

“You’re not as important as you think you are,” he said.

For a Giants team that has been admittedly lost without him and now lacks its clubhouse leader, the backbone of the pitching staff and defense, or the man in the heart of the Giants’ order anymore — for the fans who, justly, feel like a member of their spring, summer, and fall family is leaving — Posey couldn’t be more incorrect.

There will never be another Giant like Buster Posey. He was more important than he’ll ever know.