DETROIT -- The latest layer of snow covering the playing field at Comerica Park, complete with an extra coating from a sudden snowfall on Wednesday morning, offered no reminder that baseball will return in about nine weeks. The light at the end of the tunnel came from the moving truck
DETROIT -- The latest layer of snow covering the playing field at Comerica Park, complete with an extra coating from a sudden snowfall on Wednesday morning, offered no reminder that baseball will return in about nine weeks. The light at the end of the tunnel came from the moving truck that rumbled down the snowy streets and through the actual tunnel that leads underground to the bowels of the ballpark.
For many Major League teams, Truck Day is the sign that Spring Training is around the corner, and the baseball equipment that goes with it is about to hit the road. For longtime Tigers clubhouse manager Jim Schmakel, entering his 39th season, it's more of a culmination, a winter full of packing about to finally end.
"Yeah, this is a good day for us, because we've been packing basically all winter," Schmakel said, "and hopefully the fruits of our labor will work really good. It's like moving a house, but we're packing, and we've got three months to do it.
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"A lot of stuff is delivered down there. A lot of stuff is sent down and we pick it up there. But we're anxious for the new building. We want to see what it looks like and how it's going to work for us."
The destination is different, a renovated Spring Training facility complete with a spacious new clubhouse, weight room and offices. The process of getting stuff down there, however, is the same as it has been for years. Two 53-foot trailers from Frisbie Moving and Storage will haul nearly 80,000 pounds of equipment from Detroit to Lakeland, Fla., a two-day trip handled by drivers who have made the trek enough times to know it by heart.
The first trailer, which was being packed up on Wednesday, includes baseballs, bats, hats, weight equipment, video and computer technology, bicycles and other assorted items. Every square foot of that trailer is packed, top to bottom.
The equipment has changed over the years. They don't ship as many bats because the current maple bats seem to last longer, and there's enough weight equipment at the Tigertown complex that they don't need to bring in much. The cabinets that once contained scouting files on players across the league are now obsolete, replaced by computer files. Even the video and computer equipment being packed has changed, as iPads have replaced some of the heavier electronics gear.
At the same time, the Tigers pack the same mechanical hat stretcher -- a long-ago gift from the president of the New Era cap company -- that they've used for decades.
The second truck, set to leave next week, carries more office equipment, luggage and personal gear, including the bicycle Schmakel still uses to make his way around the complex to make sure everything is running smoothly. With so many Tigers personnel spending time in Lakeland, that truck gets pretty well packed, too, even if players usually don't have personal gear to take down.
"In the old days, yes, because a lot of guys lived here [in Michigan]," Schmakel said. "Now we have very few players live in the Detroit area during the winter. Most of them go to warm areas so they can work out all winter. But in the '80s and early '90s, a number of guys stayed here. Like, we had to take Jack Morris' dogs down once. We had to drive the dogs down."
Once the trucks arrive in Lakeland, they're greeted by a small army of clubhouse assistants, many of them college students from Michigan and northwest Ohio, who use this as an internship of sorts in sports management.
Several pitchers are already there, getting in throwing sessions under the Florida sun. They'll begin formal workouts with Tigers catchers on Feb. 14, followed by full-squad workouts later in the week. The first game at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium is the Tigers' annual exhibition with Florida Southern College on Feb. 23.
By then, Schmakel is already planning for the return trip north.
"We've already got that planned," he said. "We have the days we know we're coming back. We open on the road, so it's a little bit different than when you open at home. Once we get down there, we start packing to come home, believe it or not."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.