Truck Day a rite of spring in Boston

Truck's departure signals spring is near

BOSTON -- With snow piled up around Fenway Park, the annual rite of spring for Red Sox fans could not have happened at a more appropriate time.

At roughly 2 p.m. ET on Monday, the Atlas Van Lines moving truck, loaded with 20,000-25,000 pounds of equipment for Red Sox players and office employees, pulled away from Fenway Park and headed for Fort Myers, Fla., where the 2006 team officially opens Spring Training on Saturday.

Most other regions celebrate the dawn of Spring Training with the unmistakable sound of the ball hitting the bat. In Boston, the official symbol comes in the form of exhaust fumes that exude as that truck pulls out of the ballpark.

Or perhaps the large banner that hung across that truck that read, "49 days until Opening Day ... The Boston Red Sox are headed to Spring Training." And that message was only made complete by the palm trees and sunshine illustrated on that banner.

"A blizzard [on Sunday] to set the scene of snow and then beautiful blue skies for the van to be able to pull away and then head to Florida [on Monday]," said Red Sox executive vice president/public affairs Charles Steinberg. "It's the best of both worlds."

A modest gathering of fans stopped by to witness the departure of the truck. A small pickup truck of team employees and ambassadors followed the moving fan out of Fenway, ceremoniously throwing squishy baseballs to fans on the street.

Optimism filled the chilly air.

"We have Papi [David Ortiz], [Jason] Varitek and [Josh] Beckett. Now if you could just hang on to [David] Wells," said Linda Haley, a resident of Billerica, Mass., who stopped by Fenway during her lunch break to bid the truck adieu. "[Curt] Schilling will be back in full form. We have some exciting new guys. Not too many weeks away from Opening Day now."

The real substance of baseball begins in a few days, when manager Terry Francona and his players gather for the start of another year. But Monday was a day for New Englanders to soak in the reality that baseball is almost back.

"This is a day for kids," said Steinberg. "This is a day that brings out the children in all of us. You can imagine when you were 8 years old or 10 years old how, with such reverence, you viewed the phrase 'pitchers and catchers report.' And the van leaving is that trigger of emotion that tells you it's just five days until pitchers and catchers report. And on a day when New England is blanketed with snow, the reminder that pitchers and catchers report in a few days by virtue of the van leaving, those are good words. Those are soothing to any New Englander's soul."

The crush of the storm left the Red Sox to leave no stone unturned for Monday's preparation. The club had Atlas Vans driver Al Hartz park the truck outside of Fenway at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday in order to make sure he'd have a parking spot for the Monday morning's loading. Hartz slept overnight in the truck.

"I'm used to that," said Hartz, who had the job of hauling the Red Sox equipment to Florida for the ninth year in a row. "The truck is my home away from home."

Hartz expects to pull into Fort Myers on Wednesday night and unload the precious cargo on Thursday.

"We are finding out that a lot of Bostonians are making plans to go to Spring Training," said Steinberg. "I think we've probably gotten more calls about that than I've seen in our years here. One lady sent me an e-mail, she said, 'I know that the van is leaving, I don't care. I'm already in Fort Myers, when is the van arriving?"

Last year at this time, the Red Sox were still enjoying the afterglow of the first World Series championship in 86 years. Now, fans and players want to erase the hollow feeling of falling 11 playoff wins short in 2005.

"There's tremendous enthusiasm," Steinberg said. "Some of the ordinary metrics you use are ticket sales, and they're well ahead of last year, but you really want to use the anecdotal metrics, you want to hear what people say to you as you're walking down the street, and they're thrilled that you have Coco Crisp and they're thrilled to see what Josh Beckett looks like in a Red Sox uniform ... you can certainly feel the buzz throughout the Boston area, and I trust, throughout New England."

For that buzz is certainly more soothing than the noise of snowblowers and shovels throughout the region on Sunday.

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.