Happy Truck Day!
February, 5, 2013
By Tony Lee, Special to ESPNBoston.com
Tony Lee/ESPNThe Red Sox equipment truck was being loaded early Tuesday morning at Fenway Park.BOSTON -- While the Red Sox organization scrambles to rediscover itself with a new brew of players and coaches, many traditions remain.
One such tradition took center stage Tuesday outside Fenway Park, where dozens of fans came out to watch the Red Sox equipment truck be loaded up for its annual trip to Fort Myers, Fla. Truck Day has been the unofficial start of spring training for 16 years, and after a last-place finish in 2012, every bit of support resonates that much more.
“It is a good reminder to us that fans care so deeply and care so much that we have a responsibility to get it right, to make this team better in as many ways as possible,” president/CEO Larry Lucchino said. “We recognize that privilege.”
Before the process of righting wrongs can truly begin, the tools of the trade must be delivered to JetBlue Park at Fenway South, where the team trains and will begin playing games in just over two weeks.
Tony Lee/ESPNWill Middlebrooks, appearing outside Fenway Park, said the annual Truck Day tradition is unique to Boston. "It's pretty cool. You don't really see this anywhere else. Red Sox Nation is in full effect right now and ready to go just as much as we are."
For the 15th straight year, that delivery falls into the hands of Milford native Al Hartz, who loaded up the 53-foot truck before driving off behind a float filled with Red Sox staffers who danced and threw souvenirs to fans.
“It’s always a lot of fun. It’s a pretty unique experience and something I look forward to every year,” Hartz said.
The truck was graced with a message, sponsored by JetBlue, which read: “Big Things Ahead.” Inside were many little things, including over 20,000 baseballs, more than 1,000 bats, and hundreds of jerseys, T-shirts, helmets, gloves and, of course, sunflower seeds.
To the average fan who stood in chilly conditions Thursday, the contents of each box and bag were hard to discern. But that seemed of little significance, for the imagination of a spring filled with promise is all that matters.
In fact, there was barely a mention of the 2012 nosedive amid the fans that stood outside the metal barriers. Not when tradition takes over.
“That wasn’t even a thought,” said Diana Parent of West Greenwich, R.I., when asked if she considered the need to provide more, or less, support this season.
Parent and her father, Bob Arnold, took the train from Rhode Island and arrived hours before Red Sox personnel, including Lucchino and third baseman Will Middlebrooks, were on the scene. Also on hand were some who had attended every Truck Day since its inception, and one family that arrived four generations strong to take in the experience -- great-granddad alongside his toddling great-grandson.
Once the truck disappeared out of sight, the crowd dispersed. Now, the real work begins.
Pitchers and catchers are due to report Sunday. The rest of the squad arrives later in the week. Actual games begin with the annual Northeastern-Boston College doubleheader on Feb. 21, and the Tampa Bay Rays send a split squad to JetBlue Park two days later for the Sox’ Grapefruit League opener.
Many players, including several members of the starting rotation, already have been in Fort Myers for days. There is an eagerness within the organization.
“A different personality to the team, a different roster,” Lucchino said. “These guys seem to be, by virtue of the fact that 14 of them are there early, is an early indication that these guys mean business.”
Middlebrooks, fresh off a bizarre-sounding fungo session over at Harvard University with new closer Joel Hanrahan, signed autographs, shook hands, kissed babies and threw souvenir baseballs into the crowd on Van Ness Street. He echoed the need to make amends.
“Absolutely,” Middlebrooks said when asked if there is a sour taste left over from 2012. “I think there is in everybody’s [mouth]. We’re ready to turn that around.”
A budding ambassador for the organization and a potential middle-of-the-order force for years to come, Middlebrooks is becoming a fixture at fan-friendly events such as Truck Day. He is already keen to what can make fans in Boston unique, even after a 69-win campaign.
“I’ve always seen pictures of it. This is the first time I’ve been part of it,” he said of the truck send-off. “It’s pretty cool. You don’t really see this anywhere else. Red Sox Nation is in full effect right now and ready to go just as much as we are.”
Hartz said he will arrive by Thursday afternoon. The truck will be unloaded Friday.
“No rush,” he said.
Maybe not with the cargo. As for warm weather and winning baseball, there are some who can’t wait. Many of them showed up on a cold, cloudy day to watch a truck drive down the street.