BOSTON - Officially, the Boston Red Sox season doesn't start until April 5, but for all intents and purposes, the new year began at Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon with Truck Day 2012, everybody's favorite holiday that combines baseball and moving trucks.
Hundreds of fans gathered on Van Ness Street behind Fenway to watch movers load up a truck (this truck) with bats, baseballs, gold clubs and all sorts of supplies before it made the 1,480 mile drive from Fenway to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida, which is the new home of Red Sox spring training.
Fans came from far and wide to witness the event, which concluded with a rolling rally at noon as the truck began its journey. Wally the Green Monster, the team's mascot, was on top of a flat bed truck along with other team employees tossing souvenir balls into the crowd as such songs as "Dirty Water" and "Play Ball" played in the background.
It seems that every year, the fan support has continued to grow. Larry Lucchino, the president and chief executive officer of the Red Sox, was on hand at this year's truck day, taking pictures with fans and even handing out cookies and other team-related freebies to the many fans who braved the cold and snow to show their love and support for the team.
"I am amazed and inspired," Lucchino said. "I talked to some fans today, one who drove up from Pennsylvania. Some other folks came up from New York City for it. It's a right of passage, a right of spring, and some people have a streak going. Some people think they are good luck, the last time they did it was 2007 or something and they want to make it happen again. It's inspiring to me, we can't forget how important this team is to so many people and to their spirits and their sense of community. It's energizing to see them."
Lucchino, who arrived on the scene near 11 a.m. and stayed through most of the celebrations, said that this year has a new feel to it, considering the new spring training ballpark and the changes in baseball management.
"There's a lot of newness with the new general manager and new field manager and a new facility down there," Lucchino said. "It's just not the same thing as it's been down there for the last several years, and I hope that the newness results in some new energy.
"We hope the new facility, especially, results in some competitive advantage. We have a state of the art facility in Lake County which has all of our players combined for the first time in many, many, many years. I think it's going to be good for evaluation, good for training, good for our Red Sox culture -- the major leaguers and the minor leaguers will be interacting and eating together and working out together. I think that can be a very positive thing, and let's hope a competitive advantage."
The truck is en route to the new spring training facility, although it doesn't officially begin for another week. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Sunday, February 19, with the first workout being held on Tuesday, February 21 and the first full team workout taking place on Saturday, February 25.
Liz Kinnal, a local quality engineer for a medical device startup company, was one of the first (but from my vantage point, the first) fans to show up at Truck Day.
"It's the start of baseball season and the beginning of the end of winter, which is very hopeful," Kinnal said. "I've been a Red Sox fan forever, and this is the start of the season."
Kinnal had never been to Truck Day, mainly because of the timing of the event. Last year, Truck Day was held on a Tuesday, so the fact that is was on the weekend this year was a big plus.
"I've never been, because it's usually on a weekday so I'm at work," said Kinnal. "But this year it was on Saturday. It works out nicely."
New England has been having an unusually lite winter snow wise to this point. Of course, one of the few days that mother nature did decide to sprinkle Boston with snow was on Saturday for Truck Day.
One would think that the weather (it had snowed earlier in the morning and continued to snow lightly all throughout the event) would have caused some fans to stay home. That wasn't the case for many fans, Kinnal in particular.
"Absolutely not," she said when asked if the weather factored in her decision to attend. "I thought it was like you are more of a fan for showing up today, because it was snowing, and of course you still have to go to Truck Day."
As for Kinnal's thought on the Red Sox this season, she isn't quite sure what to expect, and for good reason -- the team has a new general manager and manager to go along with some new faces and a lot more competition around them.
"I don't know, I'm going to always be hopeful that [the team] goes pretty far," Kinnal said. "We haven't had spring training yet, so we'll see what happens there and how things come together. There's a lot of changes over the offseason, so we'll see. It should be interesting to watch."
One of the toughest parts about last season for Kinnal (and pretty much every member of Red Sox nation) was how it ended. The Red Sox blew a nine-game lead in the AL Wild Card at the start of September and finished the month with a 7-20 record. On the last day of the season, the Sox blew a lead and allowed the Tampa Bay Rays to claim the AL Wild Card title and eliminate Boston from the hunt.
"It was heartbreaking and there was a lot of drama at the end of the season, and I hope that we can put that away and that everybody went home and relaxed with their families over the winter, and now we're back and we can get back to being a good team," said Kinnal."
Being the sports capital of America, there were plenty of other sports to focus on. The Boston Bruins were starting a new season and coming off the Stanley Cup victory one season ago and the Boston Celtics were resuming play after a lengthy lockout that ate into the regular season.
There was also the New England Patriots' and their run, which brought them all the way to Super Bowl XLVI last Sunday. Alas, Tom Brady and company couldn't get the job done. The loss certainly hurt, but for Kinnal and others, the arrival of Truck Day was a good distraction from an otherwise depressing situation with the Patriots.
"I think definitely," Kinnal said. "This is what was pulling me through last week. I was like, 'it's OK, it's only six days until Truck Day.' That's totally fine."
Al Hartz, a resident of Milford and local mover, was the man in charge of driving the famous truck from Fenway to Florida. He began driving the truck in 1998 and is now in his 15th year of making the long drive to Fort Myers.
"I go down to Florida with the big monster [he means the truck, which was dressed in green in honor of the Green Monster] an awful lot, but this is a little out of the ordinary, all of the attention, the media, this" Hartz said in reference to the big fan turnout. "Other than that, it's another run down to Florida."
During his time driving the truck, the crowd has grown dramatically from when Hartz started. When he began doing runs for the Red Sox, there was some media attention, but for the most part it was unorganized, something he gave the new ownership credit for fixing.
"[The crowd] has grown quite a bit," he said. "When I first started in '98, I'd show up at six in the morning [and] there would be TV trucks here. It wasn't really organized. The new owners have kind of organized things and tell everybody what time I'm going to leave. Originally, I would leave when I was full. Now they have a set time and everybody shows up, so it's a lot more crowded."
Hartz, as most truckers are, is regulated regarding how many hours he can drive at once.
"I'll probably run down to maybe south New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland tonight," Hartz said. "I don't have to deliver until Tuesday, so I have a nice, easy run. I can take my time."
To get where he's going, Hartz also has to drive through enemy territory, like New York.
"I haven't had any problems," he said. "Nobody's really paid a lot of attention to me. It doesn't really say 'Red Sox' on the side of the truck."
It's not just baseball equipment that Hartz is hauling, either. Everything from bicycles for children to lego models of Fenway Park have been tossed in the truck in years past, and that hasn't changed this year.
"A little bit of everything," Hartz said about his load. "Besides baseball equipment, I have an X-Ray machine. I've got a lot more personal items. They send a small army down there. They all have their luggage. If they have kids, they've got little bicycles and playpens. A lot of golf equipment, because we're going down south. It's just an awful lot of everything, it really is. About a third of the truck is baseball equipment."
Hartz isn't keen about the media attention he receives surrounding the haul, but he does recognize the significance surrounding the experience, and for that, he is grateful.
"This is probably my favorite job of the year," he said. "The rest of the time I'm a mover, carrying things in and out of people's homes. This is my easiest job of the year.
"It's a pretty special feeling. I get to see inside the clubhouse and behind the scenes. It's going to be a unique experience, it really is."
And just like that, baseball season has arrived (at least in New England). Buckle up.