Rockies get ready to migrate south on Truck Day

Longtime fans take pride in their role in annual tradition

Rockies get ready to migrate south on Truck Day

DENVER -- There's nothing like sunny skies and shirt-sleeve weather to spoil a classic photo or video. On Friday, the Rockies loaded the last truck full of equipment and personal items needed to make six weeks comfortable, and set off for Spring Training in Scottsdale, Ariz.

That scene is often accompanied by wintry weather. A truck full of baseball gear pulling out of the stadium parking lot as snow blows sideways and the wind howls can sure make folks long for baseball. Jason Johnson was more than happy that the sun shone his way Friday.

For three years, Johnson has been the honored and trusted Graebel Van Lines driver for the Rockies' official move from a Rocky Mountain winter to a desert spring. Friday marked his second trip this month. He got his fill of winter on the first trip, carting 73,000 pounds of the Rockies' baseball lives to Scottsdale for the crew that is now running Rockies Fantasy Camp.

"When I took the Fantasy Camp [gear], it was snowing in New Mexico," said Johnson, who during the regular season is often assigned to move visiting teams' gear from Denver International Airport to Coors Field and back. "It was from a little bit past Las Vegas, N.M., to Santa Fe. It was bad. It took me 2 1/2 hours to drive 60 miles."

Snow or shine, Truck Day is always an exciting one around Coors.

Visiting clubhouse manager Mike Pontarelli was in charge of making sure everything was packed Friday. Pontarelli can say he grew up with the Rockies. He was a batboy for the team in its inaugural season of 1993, while a student at Arvada West High School. He has worked through various jobs, was the assistant home clubhouse attendant last year, and was promoted to visiting clubhouse manager this winter.

Involved in Truck Day for at least 10 years, Pontarelli knows the importance of ushering all of the equipment. He also understands that the players, manager, coaches and front-office staff have lives away from the park. Major League pitchers and catchers are due to report Feb. 21, with workouts beginning the next day, but most folks get there several days early. It means families need the comforts of home -- the familiar cribs and changing tables for those just entering parenthood, the bikes and trikes for those with children a little older and the toys that the somewhat grown men who play the game need.

"We're down there for upwards of two months," Pontarelli said. "We try to make it as much like home for everybody and be as accommodating as possible for our staff members and players. Guys will call and say, 'Can I bring my big-screen TV down? It's my special big-screen TV. I like watching the MLB Network,' or whatever it is."

The best way to think of it is to remember the old days playing youth baseball, only on a grander scale. The Rockies calculated how grand:

• 800 dozen baseballs
• 200 bats (60 individual player-specific orders)
• 150 batting helmets
• 200 batting practice tops
• 600 pairs of pants
• 350 shirts
• 400 baseball caps (Spring Training, road, St. Patrick's Day)
• 560 pairs of socks
• 120 equipment/player bags
• 11 cases of bubble gum
• 80 cases of sunflower seeds
• 6 pallets of sports drink

Friday's load finished between 52,000 and 53,000 pounds, and as much will come back for the regular season.

Johnson is happy to move it all. It's not just a job. A Denver native, Johnson played football at Scottsdale Community College and Western Oregon State, and still looks athletic. He gets his playing fix through weekend softball, and pulls for the home MLB team. Johnson also makes sure his Graebel Van Lines crew feels a part of the team as well.

"We take pride in moving the Rockies," Johnson said. "We have an excellent crew here and an excellent crew down in Phoenix getting it loaded and unloaded. My part's easy, just getting it down there. We're grateful to be a part of getting the season started."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.