02/12/06 2:44 PM ET
Truck Day a sign of spring's arrival
Fans know season is near when trucks head to warmer climate
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
This has become a new sign of the times in today's golden era of Major League Baseball. If you want to know just how big Truck Day has become in places like Boston, Seattle, Houston and other loading docks around North America, then just consider what Red Sox executive vice president Charles Steinberg had to say as the truck pulled out of Fenway amid a throng of fans one year ago this week:
"In any baseball city, the truck's departure for Spring Training connects with a lot of fans. In Boston and in New England, that is magnified so many times over. Instead of just making it our little private fireplace of warmth, you want to connect with the fans, resonate with the fans, share it with the fans, give them a chance to celebrate spring as well.
"When you see the images of snow at one end and sunshine at the other ... this trip is a metaphor. Winter is going to end. Spring is going to come. And baseball is the robin. Baseball heralds spring. You want to celebrate that."
The Red Sox's truck is scheduled to roll out of Fenway between 1:30-2 p.m. ET, and indeed, there is a special symbolism there because of the massive whiteout that just happened all over the Northeast this weekend. But this clearly is becoming a bigger deal all around the Majors, with news releases announcing various Truck Day departures from the big-league cities.
Truckers are hauling loads across U.S. interstates on a 24/7/365 basis, but rarely is such pomp and circumstance attached to their journey as they turn on the ignition and head for the on-ramps for balmy climes. At the end of these destinations are palm trees and well-manicured baseball fields that are just waiting for pitchers and catchers to step their first cleats onto them starting Wednesday.
Spring Training is generally considered the starting point for the endurance test that results in a World Series winner. Truthfully, though, it starts with Truck Day. It started Friday in Houston, when the Astros' equipment crew loaded a 54-foot 18-wheeler with everything a Major League team needs to get through Spring Training. The truck departed Minute Maid Park that day and was scheduled to arrive Sunday in Kissimmee, Fla.
What exactly goes onto one of these rigs? According to Dennis Liborio, a 27-year veteran as the Astros' head clubhouse man, this was their inventory:
Hats, T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, short-sleeved shirts, dry fits (undergarments that soak up sweat), athletic supporters, belts, underwear, tights, long johns, stirrup socks, running shoes, spikes, turf shoes, jerseys, pants, lightweight jackets and heavyweight ones, too, in case it gets cold.
Gum -- about 10,000 pieces -- plus about 36 boxes of sunflower seeds.
Whirlpools, medical supplies, medical machines and weight equipment.
"It takes all winter to prepare for this," Liborio said. "We basically start when the season ends. We start packing things we know we're taking to Florida. We go through everything and try to weed out stuff we're going to give to the Minor Leagues. It's a long haul."
Trucks are generally also filled with bats, balls, helmets and more. Bats also are typically shipped to training camps by the suppliers. Players show up at their spring homes and the world is waiting for them there. Team trucks even are known to include golf clubs -- the modern-day ballplayer's other favorite piece of sporting equipment.
"It's a big job, but it's a big job when we get there, too," Mariners clubhouse manager Ted Walsh said during last year's Truck Day. "Once the truck arrives in Peoria [Ariz., three days later], we've got to unload and get everything set up. That's the real job. Once those guys are out there on the field and playing, we'll know the season's ready to go."
Soon it will be Opening Day. Many months later, it will be Rally Monday for eight clubs that make the playoffs. There are so many big days on the calendar year for a baseball fan, and Truck Day is becoming yet another of them.
Just ask Richie Sexson, who is about to start another Spring Training with the Mariners.
"With the truck leaving," he says, "that kind of tells you that it's even closer."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. Team correspondents Ian Browne, Alyson Footer and Doug Miller contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.