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For Tigers' Schmakel, Truck Day itself is a breeze

Longtime clubhouse manager spent three months organizing for spring trek

DETROIT -- After 37 years, Tigers clubhouse manager Jim Schmakel has Truck Day down to a science. As he stared Tuesday morning at a clubhouse filled with crates, plastic tubs, cardboard boxes and duffel bags, he was looking at an offseason's worth of work.

It looked like chaos. For him, it's organization.

"I've been putting this all together for three months," Schmakel said. "This is the day I rest."

Tuesday was the day the movers took it all, loading it into one of two tractor trailers set to make the 1,160-mile journey down Interstate 75 for Lakeland, Fla. And with that, the long Michigan winter has an end in sight.

When Schmakel was younger, Truck Day was literally one truck, and it wasn't even filled. With weight equipment, technology, video equipment, front-office luggage and ever more gear from manufacturers, it has become a two-truck assignment, filling both trailers at about 40,000 pounds apiece.

The first truck, with most essential team equipment, was loaded Tuesday and will arrive at Joker Marchant Stadium on Thursday morning. The second truck, with luggage and non-baseball equipment, will leave Thursday.

Schmakel has had unusual cargo before, such as the year he drove Jack Morris' dogs down to Florida with him. It's pretty standard now. Among the gear is the hat stretcher given to him by the president of the New Era cap company 30 years ago, and the manager's chair Brad Ausmus uses in his office at Comerica Park.

Yes, Ausmus sits in the same chair in Spring Training that he does during the season.

"That's not his request," said Schmakel, whose time as clubhouse manager goes back to when Ausmus was Tigers catcher. "He could care less which chair he's sitting in."

A line of bicycles included some for family members, some for the hard-working clubhouse assistants who volunteer their spring breaks and spring semesters to be a part of it, and one for Schmakel himself to ride around the Tigertown complex. That, too, has a history, and a poignant one for Schmakel this year.

Dave Bergman grew tired of watching Schmakel running around Tigertown and decided to find him a way to get around the complex faster. One of the sporting goods manufacturers gave Bergman his chance.

"He kept saying he was going to get me a bike," Schmakel said. "And then all of a sudden, the bike showed up. It was a good one, too."

That was in the late '80s. He has been riding around Tigertown since, with one brief exception 10 years ago after his bike broke down. Another well-known Tigers role player stepped in and continued the tradition.

"I was running back and forth, and Brandon Inge said, 'You have the worst gait I've ever seen,'" Schmakel recalled.

And so, Inge bought him a new bike, which Schmakel still rides these days. As he wheeled the bike up to the truck, though, he couldn't help but think about Bergman, who passed away last week after a battle with cancer.

"Dave Bergman was a good friend, a very good friend," Schmakel said. "We'll miss him."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
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