02/10/10 12:45 PM EST
Truck Day portends dawn of new season
With baseball on the horizon, teams head to spring homes
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Truck Day makes it official.
This October, we'll all be chattering intensely about the 106th World Series matchup, then a final out will be recorded or a walk-off hit will decide it, then FOX will show the wild celebration dogpile on the field, and then a parade will carry elated champs through a city's thoroughfare with a gleaming trophy. But this is how it all starts.
Major League Baseball clubs are packing up their equipment at the big league ballparks and loading up the nondescript 18-wheelers that literally get the ball rolling. Cases and trunks and barrels and bags of gear and goodies make it to Florida and Arizona destinations for Spring Training, in time for the first pitchers and catchers to report starting on Feb. 18.
Some clubs handle Truck Day with ceremonial flair, some stay under the radar. This is the good stuff, all right. It's Ichiro's bats that produce 200 hits a season, it's the pitching machine that helps throw Michael Young his 200 pitches a day in the cage, it's the bubble gum that Red Sox manager Terry Francona chews and it's the uniforms and the laundry detergent and the baseballs and the helmets and facts of life that make a National Pastime go 'round.
A pair of American League Central rivals had their Truck Day events on Monday morning. The Royals were using a John Deere to load the heavy-duty supplies into a big rig at Kauffman Stadium, and next stop is Surprise, Ariz. The Indians' truck departed Progressive Field for the warm climes of Goodyear, Ariz., where pitchers and catchers will report on Feb. 21 under the watchful eye of first-year manager Manny Acta. It marks the second year the Indians will train in Goodyear, and it's the first year they'll share their surroundings with the Reds, who have built their own facility about a mile south of the Tribe's.
The Mets' annual equipment pilgrimage from Flushing, N.Y., to Port St. Lucie, Fla., began late Tuesday morning in advance of an expected significant snowfall. With an assist from Mr. Met, workers loaded all sorts of Spring Training gear onto a 10-wheeler and sent it on its way to the club's training camp headquarters in Florida. Baseball equipment was included, of course, as well as medical supplies, media-relations supplies, bikes, playpens and a necessity of Florida living -- golf clubs.
The Mets also left some space in the trailer for whatever good luck they could find. Their disabled list summer of 2009 was foreshadowed by a seven-week period in Port St. Lucie that produced maladies involving Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Brian Schneider, Ryan Church, Tim Redding and Angel Pagan. They're hoping to avoid more of the same this year.
The truck, depending on the snow, is likely to arrive in Florida before the weekend and, of course, before pitchers and catchers report. The Mets' first day for working out is Saturday, Feb. 20, but a number of the players are likely to be in the area earlier. Position players are to be in town on Feb. 23 and work out two days later.
Truck Day has long been a big event in Boston. The 2010 Spring Training Truck Day presented by JetBlue Airways is scheduled for Friday. The Red Sox equipment truck will depart Fenway Park for the 1,480-mile trip to the club's Spring Training home in Fort Myers, Florida on Friday at approximately noon ET.
The equipment truck, which will depart from Fenway Park on Van Ness Street -- adjacent to Gate D -- will be led in procession by a flat-bed truck carrying Wally the Green Monster and Fenway Ambassadors, who will be tossing soft Red Sox baseballs to fans.
Fans are also welcome to stop by and see Wally between 11 a.m. and noon at the Yawkey Way Store next to Fenway for their chance to win a round-trip flight on JetBlue, a trip to Spring Training in Ft. Myers, and other great prizes.
Meanwhile, the Cubs' truck moved out on Tuesday amid a steady snowfall outside Wrigley Field. The club invited fans to come out to Gate K and hang out as the activity happened. Cubs clubhouse staff loaded the moving van with dozens of baseballs, a few suitcases, some golf clubs and jerseys for the trek to Mesa, Ariz.
"I'm anxious to get there," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "When you have a year that doesn't end in postseason play, it just kind of lingers with you all offseason no matter what you do or how you think you might have fixed this or fixed that. [That feeling] doesn't leave you until you get down there and get outside and guys are on the field."
School children from nearby Inter-American School brought letters for the players to be shipped on the truck to Spring Training. Plenty of the Cubs got a head start on camp. Hendry was in Arizona about 10 days ago, and said nearly 20 players on the Major League roster were among those working out at Fitch Park, including pitcher Carlos Zambrano.
"They have a little bit of an edge to them after the way things ended last year," Hendry said of the team's second-place finish in the National League Central.
The Brewers announced that their truck will be loaded on Wednesday, starting at 8:30 a.m. ET on the South Dock at Miller Park. The truck will then leave for the Brewers' Spring Training home, Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix, Ariz., and will be there in plenty of time for pitchers and catchers' first reporting on Feb. 20. The World Famous Klement's Racing Sausages will help pack the truck starting at 8:45 a.m.
The Rangers, Reds and Mariners were three clubs that hit the highway on Friday, getting the gradual process started. All of those trucks packed up and headed for Arizona, and in the Reds' case, it was the first time since World War II that an equipment truck headed somewhere other than Florida and the good old Grapefruit League.
The Indians announced that their equipment truck will load and leave for Goodyear, Ariz., on Monday morning at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Media there were invited to come out and show off the process to fans, a sign of the times around baseball. Indians home clubhouse and equipment manager Tony Amato and his assistant, Marty Bokovitz, will be available at 9:30 a.m. ET that day for interviews about the equipment being shipped out.
Rangers dugout coach Jackie Moore has been going to Spring Training camps for a half-century, and he said on Friday, as the Texas truck was being loaded up for its trek over to Surprise, Ariz.: "If it wasn't for that truck, we couldn't do a whole lot."
Truck Days pack up for the long haul, literally and figuratively. Camp is roughly a month and a half long, breaking for Opening Day games that start with Yankees at Red Sox the night of April 4. So as you might imagine, a truck becomes chock-full, and in some cases one truck isn't enough.
Sitting next to the Rangers' truck ready for loading were eight 100-pound barrels of laundry detergent, along with 400 neatly folded towels. There were eight cases of energy drink, to fight the Arizona heat. Batting gloves. Pine tar. Frank Francisco's chess set. Someone's guitar. Jarrod Saltalamacchia's catching gear. "That's got to get there," he said. Baked chips. Peanuts, gum, a popup machine to hit pop flies and seeds to pop out of your mouth in the dugout.
"It's like going to the space shuttle," Rangers equipment manager Richard "Hoggy" Price said. "You're moving all your stuff from Arlington to Surprise. It's time to get ready for the year."
The Reds trained in Sarasota, Fla., from 1998-2009, a 976-mile ride from Cincinnati down I-75. Now their truck is on the way to Goodyear, Ariz., which is 1,863 miles. "The truck driver will need another day of driving, I know that," Reds equipment manager Rick Stowe said on Thursday. "Instead of two days, it's three days for him to get out there."
Inside the back of the Reds' truck, the contents included black trunks full of equipment, medical staff supplies and boxes upon boxes of what could be labeled simply as stuff. That includes personal items for staff members and their families -- from suitcases to cribs and bikes. There will also be hundreds of helmets, shirts, socks, hats, jerseys and about 21,000 baseballs. There were skids of coolers and cups and cases of sunflower seeds and gum. There is a lot of work to be done at Reds camp, and manager Dusty Baker told Stowe to be sure his office has a bookshelf and a cork board for managerial kinds of things.
"We're bringing a lot of stuff that we're going to leave out there," Stowe said. "The truck is filling up a lot faster than it has in years past because there's a lot of stuff we brought home from Sarasota to bring out to Arizona."
Trucks aren't just carrying the things you see most often on TV, the tools of the trade. Often they are items that team personnel need to have at camp. Fans can relate when the Rangers' Moore says: "Whatever I can put on the truck, that will save money from not checking baggage on an airline."
Shoes, caps, underwear, socks, shorts, T-shirts, sweat shirts and pants, warmup jackets and all kinds of uniforms. Racks on which to hang the uniforms when they are clean, and laundry baskets for when they are dirty. It's everything that is essential to playing baseball, and that is a lot of stuff.
In Seattle on Friday, the Mariners clubhouse staff members were busy loading 25,000 pounds of gear into a 53-foot truck and getting ready to usher it off to the club's Spring Training home of Peoria, Ariz. The driver was ready for 1,450 miles in three 10-hour shifts down Interstate-5, over two mountain passes, east on I-210 and catching I-10 near Palm Springs, Calif., continuing through the Mojave all the way to the Valley of the Sun.
It remains to be seen whether all that prominent movement in the Mariners' offseason will help them to a World Series. But this is the movement that first makes it possible.
"Beyond all the work that has to be done to get the truck going, you can definitely sense the excitement that it represents," Mariners clubhouse manager Ted Walsh said. "And on the heels of FanFest, which was a huge success, everybody seems to be very excited about the upcoming season."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.