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Truck Day foreshadows action ahead

Truck Day foreshadows action ahead

The last time we saw the Phillies in uniform, they got the most out of it: Longest game in Major League history, suspended in the sixth inning due to rain and resumed two days later with Brad Lidge striking out Eric Hinske for a 4-3 Game 5 victory over Tampa Bay and the club's first world championship since 1980.

Some of the equipment and apparel from the Phillies' clubhouse went straight to Cooperstown: a Cole Hamels jersey here, a Ryan Howard bat there. Much of it was simply packed away, to be used another day.

"Another day" is almost here. Philadelphia is the latest in a long line of teams sending out one of those beloved press releases (are there any we like more) that alert media about Truck Day. Cleveland's was last Friday, Milwaukee's and the Mets' were on Wednesday, The Red Sox, Phillies and Rangers will start the drive Friday. The Phillies will pack up a 53-foot equipment truck with thousands of items and drive down to Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla.

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Ever wonder what actually goes on those big rigs that thunder along the Interstate carrying the first signs of spring? Here are the Phillies' contents:

• 15 cases of gum (regular and sugarless)
• 12 cases of sunflower seeds
• 20 coolers and a half pallet of POWERade mix
• 300 helmets
• 350 pairs of shorts
• 450 pairs of socks
• 600 pairs of pants
• 600 hats
• 200 fleeces
• 1,200 bats
• 2,000 T-shirts
• 10,000 12 oz. cups
• 15,000 baseballs
• 150 pairs of batting gloves

In addition, the Phillies' truck will be loaded with hundreds of autographed bats, baseballs and game-used items to be sold for charity during the Phillies' FanFest on Feb. 20 at Bright House Field. The truck will be loaded from 9-11 a.m. ET outside of the Phillies' clubhouse Friday, and it will depart once it is full.

Red Sox fans are sure to converge Friday on Fenway Park to join what has become a modern ritual there. In the past, the Red Sox 18-wheeler has departed from Fenway at the players' parking lot entrance on Van Ness Street, and is followed out by Fenway ambassadors, Red Sox staff and Wally the Green Monster tossing gifts to fans from a flatbed truck. It was an Atlas Van Lines truck last year, as these typically look just like other moving vehicles -- no one wants a long caravan on the highway for these precious goods.

New for this year, a box of e-mails containing well-wishes from fans in Red Sox Nation will also be loaded on the Boston equipment truck. This box will be placed in the truck by official Citizens of Red Sox Nation and is intended to bring the Red Sox good luck for the 2009 season.

Red Sox Hall of Famer Johnny Pesky will serve as the Grand Marshal of the Red Sox Spring Training Equipment Truck Departure Parade. Pesky, whose uniform No. 6 was formally retired by the Red Sox last year, will ceremoniously "start" the engines of the equipment truck that will make the 1,480-mile trip to the team's Spring Training home in Fort Myers. As the truck departs Boston, it will be led in procession by a flat-bed truck carrying Wally the Green Monster, Fenway Ambassadors, and official Citizens of Red Sox Nation.

Fans who plan to attend the Spring Training Truck Departure also can purchase newly released and affordable standing room tickets for Red Sox games throughout the summer of 2009. These tickets are only available tomorrow at the Fenway Park box office. Additionally, fans can enjoy $1 hot dogs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The ritual is almost starting to feel like a warmup parade, a glimpse of what could be possible many months later. The extreme beginning leading to the extreme end. Maybe one day the flatbed holds a World Series trophy on it, the kind that went through the streets of Philadelphia among millions on that unforgettable last Halloween.

Last year, there was a box loaded onto the Red Sox truck that read: "MANNY #24 FLORIDA" -- and Sox fans who hovered around got that sweet feeling knowing Manny Ramirez would be in uniform again soon. That is another fascinating thing about Truck Day. You know these vehicles are being loaded with bags and belongings intended for players who might not be around on the other side of the calendar year.

Baseball moves on. The trucks make sure of it.

Players naturally do not board these trucks. They do their own thing, and their bats and helmets and T-shirts will be there waiting. Terry Francona will have plenty of bubble gum waiting for him. There will be no John Candy scene like in the movie "Home Alone" -- where he and his polka buddies ride in tow. But there will be some noted personalities making the trip on one of these big rigs. The Brewers announced:

"In addition, the World Famous Klement's Racing Sausages will be loaded on the truck as they travel to Arizona to prepare for their spring workouts. The Sausages plan to board the truck around 9:30 a.m. [CT]."

Truck Day is a little bigger every year now. It still is not universal, as some clubs are more low-key about their transportation. But it makes us smile, just thinking about it, just watching the loading process and seeing them off from the loading docks. It signals a dawn of a new day, a time to order season or single-game tickets, an indicator that everything is in order and the first crack of the bat will be heard soon.

The bats are being loaded onto the trucks. Some already have delivered their loads, like Cleveland's two rigs that went West this year for the first time to Goodyear, Ariz. It was a much different truck route this time, after all those springs in Winter Haven, Fla. The Dodgers' equipment truck only has to go from Chavez Ravine, Calif., across one other state to reach their new spring home in Arizona, after all that time in Vero Beach, Fla.

Brad Lidge will go to Clearwater, Fla., now and find workout gear waiting for him. Eric Hinske will show up in his new Pirates spring home of Bradenton, Fla., ready to put on a new helmet. Phillies fans will continue their celebration, Rays fans still bask in the glory of a first American League pennant, but now comes a big sign of next year.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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