DETROIT -- Somewhere inside the mountain of boxes stacked in the Tigers’ clubhouse at Comerica Park on Monday afternoon was a box labeled as containing extra cleats for Miguel Cabrera, shoe repair for Matthew Boyd and shoes for bench coach Lloyd McClendon. It was an odds-and-ends box of footwear care,
DETROIT -- Somewhere inside the mountain of boxes stacked in the Tigers’ clubhouse at Comerica Park on Monday afternoon was a box labeled as containing extra cleats for Miguel Cabrera, shoe repair for Matthew Boyd and shoes for bench coach Lloyd McClendon. It was an odds-and-ends box of footwear care, all headed to Lakeland this week.
If Spring Training is the first sign that winter is nearly over, then Truck Day is the first sign that baseball is just around the corner. What began as an annual task for clubhouse manager Jim Schmakel and his staff has become a media event of sorts, reminding people that when football ends, baseball soon begins.
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Though the Tigers have used the same movers for years, the cargo has changed over time. What used to be a simple truckload of bats, balls, gloves and gear is now a two-truck caravan that includes video and computer equipment for analytics, special Spring Training caps, food for the clubhouse pantry, medical supplies from the training room, the rare pieces of exercise equipment that aren’t already in Tigertown’s recently-renovated workout facility, bicycles for navigating around the Tigertown complex, soft drinks for the staff, metal detectors for Joker Marchant Stadium and office equipment and luggage for front-office personnel who make Lakeland home for just over six weeks.
Some players have their bats shipped directly to Lakeland, while returning players often have their leftover lumber shipped with the team equipment. Leftover bats from former players become extra gear to use in a pinch.
Each truck carries about 40,000 pounds of gear. The first one, which carries the players’ equipment and primary clubhouse stuff, will be filled front to back. The second, which includes office equipment and luggage, might have some space left.
This year’s cargo includes more workout gear thanks to Major League Baseball’s new apparel contract with Nike. It also includes Lil’ Jon, the stuffed-animal horse that Niko Goodrum bought on a road trip and placed in Detroit’s clubhouse last summer as a good-luck charm.
All along, the general premise remains the same: Each February, the Tigers pack up as much as they can to make sure their Spring Training home feels as close to their regular-season home as possible.
For Schmakel, Truck Day begins his 42nd Spring Training with the Tigers and his 55th in professional baseball. He was in high school when he worked the clubhouse for the Toledo Mud Hens, which was then the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. Multiply 6-7 weeks per year over 41 years, and he has spent the equivalent of about five years of his life in Lakeland. He rides a bicycle around the Tigertown complex to quickly respond to requests and needs, which is how bikes first ended up on the truck.
The tricky part in recent years for Schmakel has been the late signings. The Tigers had already begun workouts in Lakeland when they signed Josh Harrison last year, requiring new jerseys and gear. They could conceivably be in a similar scenario this year if they sign a free-agent outfielder.
“The minute [Jordy] Mercer [signed in late January], I just call [the uniform representatives] and tell them what number he’s going to be,” Schmakel said. “They have the sizing, so that part of it is easy. It’s easy for me to make the phone call for the email, but [tougher] for them to manufacture it on a timely basis. And remember, they’re doing that for all 30 teams. Everybody’s calling in a late order, and you have to order the two Spring Training jerseys, the home jersey for photo day, two pairs of pants, and you have to order the St. Patrick’s Day jersey.”
Tigers pitchers and catchers hold their first official workout on Wednesday, Feb. 12. The first full-squad workout is Monday, Feb. 17.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.