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Gearing up for spring

Keep on truckin': Equipment is Florida-bound

BOSTON -- Several dozen Red Sox fans lined up across the street from Fenway Park early Monday afternoon to witness the unofficial beginning of spring for any true New Englander. That, of course, was the departure of the team's equipment truck, which will spend the next couple of days plunging southbound on Interstate 95 before reaching Fort Myers, Fla.

After a frigid few weeks, the weather even got a tad warmer for those who gathered on Van Ness Street for the ceremonial exit of the truck.

What does the simple departure of an equipment van mean to a true Red Sox fan?

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"It definitely does set in that the season is getting closer," said Tim Shaw, 28, of Exeter, N.H. "You get all excited and all revved up. The hair stands up on the back of your neck. It's not very long now until the season starts. Pretty soon, you'll be watching Spring Training games on TV."

For decades now, the day the equipment truck leaves Fenway Park has been a day Sox fans cherish.

"To me, anybody who lives in a cold weather climate looks forward to any sign of spring," said Charles Steinberg, executive vice president/public affairs for the Red Sox. "If you're a little bit more southern, it might be the first robin. But up here, when you see that truck marked Boston Red Sox and you allow yourself to still feel like you did when you were 10 years old and you know that in a couple of days you're going to see pitchers and catchers throwing under blue skies and on green grass and with golden dirt, I know that the 10-year-old inside all of us is allowed to flourish.

"I think that's why you make a big deal over this. For the 10-year-olds and for those who used to be 10 years old, this is a big day. It's a legitimately big day, because it lifts your spirit. I think we'll all take that."

And for the 2007 edition of the Red Sox, there seems to be a lot to be excited about. Everyone wants to see how well Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka fares in his first Major League season. The offense has added J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo. Big boppers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez are getting set to torch opposing pitchers again.

"The lineup looks pretty good," said Shaw. "It kind of rekindles the fire after the letdown last year. It just kind of gets you going and lets you hope for the warm weather, too."

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Any letdown that occurred in Red Sox Nation following the epic end to the World Series championship in 2004 seems to be officially over.

"I think we would have all been shocked to sense that there would be even more anticipation of this spring than recent years, with the dramatic storylines that have been written in the past," said Steinberg. "But that's the sense we have. We're getting more interest from more fans all over the world. Last week, we had fans call our office from eight different countries in one week. It's remarkable. It's Japan, but it's not only Japan; it's Europe, it's Australia, and there is a great worldwide interest to watch the Red Sox, and the interest seems to be higher than ever."

The interest will focus to Fort Myers for six weeks, beginning Friday, when pitchers and catches officially report.

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

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