Fans brave snow for annual Truck Day

Over 20,000 baseballs among tons of equipment making 1,470-mile trip to Fort Myers, Fla.

Fans brave snow for annual Truck Day

BOSTON -- As light snow fell outside Fenway Park on Van Ness Street on Wednesday morning, the early spring forecasted last week by Punxsutawney Phil seemed anything but imminent. And yet, for the die-hard fans assembled to watch the Red Sox's equipment truck get loaded up for the 1,470-mile trek to the team's Spring Training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., spring has officially sprung.

"It's the first day of spring," said Linda Collins of Charlton, Mass., who has attended Truck Day several times with her husband, Harry. "I can't wait for baseball season. This is the first sign of hope."

Truck Day has been cause for celebration in New England ever since it became a Red Sox tradition in 2003, with loading starting around 7 a.m. and continuing throughout the morning.

This year, one side of the 53-foot truck featured a 2016 "packing list," giving fans a concrete sense of what they were looking at: 20,400 baseballs, 1,100 baseball bats, 200 batting gloves, 200 batting helmets, 320 batting practice tops and 160 white game jerseys.

That's not to mention, according to a list provided by the team, 300 pairs of pants, 400 T-shirts, 400 pairs of socks, 60 cases of sunflower seeds and 20 cases of bubble gum. A thorough search through the truck would also yield a motorcycle, a pink tricycle, golf clubs and a portable crib, all belonging to front-office staff and their families.

"I just bring it down, whatever they throw on it," said Milford, Mass., native Al Hartz, who has driven the truck to Fort Myers each year since 1998.

Hartz makes the trip solo. He plans to arrive in Fort Myers on Saturday.

"I enjoy the ride down there," Hartz said. "It's something I look forward to every year."

Fans gathered to see off the Red Sox equipment trucks. (MLB)MLB

The crowd Wednesday was a bit smaller than in years past -- reaching between 50 and 100 fans by the late morning -- perhaps because of the snow, and perhaps because, unlike recent Truck Days, it took place on a weekday. 

But spirits were high, and baseball was on the brain. Team employees handed out 2016 pocket schedules, and Red Sox Poet Laureate Dick Flavin recited verses to rile up the crowd.

"He's our Hall of Famer, he'll get there with ease," Flavin chanted, "the Pope will proclaim him, Saint David Ortiz."

There were no players in sight, no speeches made or merchandise sold -- but it was a spectacle nonetheless, complete with camera crews and a small police presence.

"It's the start of the season, it's the start of spring for the city and I'm just really excited to get this season underway," said Paul Bleau, a student at Emmanuel College. "I had a class earlier today, but I made sure my schedule worked so I could be here as early as I could."

A few minutes after noon, Hartz and his truck were off, escorted by a flat-bed carrying Wally the Green Monster, his mascot sister Tessie and Fenway Park employees.

With eight days until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training and 54 days until the season opener in Cleveland, springtime hope was in the air.

"I'm pleased with the changes they've made," said Collins. "I think that we have a really good shot at it."

Aaron Leibowitz is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.