In the rest of the free world, it's "Pitchers and catchers."
Here, we have "Truck Day."
New England's answer to Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil comes this afternoon in the form of an Atlas Van Lines rig, bound for the Red Sox spring training site in Fort Myers, Fla. If you can't make it to Yawkey Way in time for this afternoon's departure, hit the local Wal-Mart on the way home and inspect the tractor trailers in the rear of the building. Same difference. You have now experienced Truck Day.
Perhaps the only thing more exciting than seeing a truck off on a two-day journey is imagining what's inside that truck. Well, according to Dennis Liborio, a 27-year veteran as the Astros' head clubhouse man, this was their inventory last year:
Hats, T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts, short-sleeved shirts, dry fits (undergarments that soak up sweat), athletic supporters, belts, underwear, tights, long johns, stirrup socks, running shoes, spikes, turf shoes, jerseys, pants, lightweight jackets and heavyweight ones, too, in case it gets cold. Gum -- about 10,000 pieces -- plus about 36 boxes of sunflower seeds. Whirlpools, medical supplies, medical machines and weight equipment.
Wow. Kids, we're skipping school today. The Red Sox are shipping gum to Florida.
Either it's a measure of just how baseball-crazed this town has come, or we utilize the sight as a sign that spring is right around the corner, a long-awaited escape from the seemingly endless 12 or so total winter days when the temperature dared to dip below 40. Or, maybe it's even more than that. Here's what Dr. Charles Steinberg had to say on the matter in soliloquies fashion on Truck Day 2005:
"In any baseball city, the truck's departure for Spring Training connects with a lot of fans. In Boston and in New England, that is magnified so many times over. Instead of just making it our little private fireplace of warmth, you want to connect with the fans, resonate with the fans, share it with the fans, give them a chance to celebrate spring as well.
"When you see the images of snow at one end and sunshine at the other ... this trip is a metaphor. Winter is going to end. Spring is going to come. And baseball is the robin. Baseball heralds spring. You want to celebrate that."
I smell a Truck Day T-shirt opportunity.
(How the Soxaholic folks actually beat the Red Sox on a marketing campaign is beyond me.)
Far be it from me to deny the truck's right as the bearer of new beginnings. But seeing it parked outside Fenway Park doesn't exactly get me all jazzed up for the start of another baseball year. Seeing Jon Lester, cancer-free, working out in camp and discussing his ordeal, yeah, that'll do it.
But for those of us who insist on wishing each other a "Happy Truck Day," the truck will leave from the players' parking lot entrance on Van Ness St., and will be followed in procession by Fenway Ambassadors, Red Sox staff, and Wally the Green Monster tossing gifts from a flat-bed truck.
No, I am not kidding.
Right, I'm sorry. The truck is a metaphor, so I suppose all the pomp and circumstance that go along with it are only precursors to some general understanding of the change in seasons. So what does it mean if it breaks down somewhere south of Williamsburg? Does Jason Varitek have to go buy some Trident thanks to its late arrival?
In any case, the truck is Boston's physical sight that spring training is soon to be in full swing, the images and sounds of Fort Myers beamed to many of us, but not felt under the warmth of a Florida sun. Spring breakers get the pop of the mitt to let them know what time of the year it is. Everyone else gets an 18-wheeler.
Fenway Park may be the bearer of spring dreams today, but within the next 48 hours, it might transform into a winter wonderland, making baseball season seem ever farther away. But not today. For some reason unbeknownst to me, Red Sox fans will line up and wave goodbye to a truck full of shirts, bats, and sunflower seeds.
Last year on Truck Day 2006, we were coming off our only major blizzard of the season, the sight of spring training an instant Ibuprofen for those of us still digging out our driveways. One year later, and another monster storm is predicted for Valentine's Day, potentially dumping up to three feet of snow in parts of our region.
I guess the truck didn't see its shadow.