Truck Day is Friday.
That’s right. Truck Day.
Even with five last-place finishes in 11 seasons and an angry fan base that booed Red Sox ownership/management at the club’s “Winter Weekend” in Springfield, Truck Day goes on. It’s kind of like playing “Sweet Caroline” after the Sox bullpen surrenders nine runs in the top of the eighth inning.
In this spirit, Wally the Green Monster, his sister Tessie, and a bunch of fresh-faced Red Sox ambassadors are expected to be on Van Ness Street around noon Friday, tossing soft baseballs into the “crowd” as a large truck carrying bats, mitts, and rosin bags departs for Fort Myers, Fla.
Truck Day is sponsored by JetBlue, but I’m told that’s only because the Orange Line made its bid too late. I’m also told that George Santos — who claims to have won 20 for the Sox as a righty screwballer in 2009 — is available to formally launch the 2023 Red Sox season by turning the ignition of the 18-wheeler parked on Van Ness.
Amazing. Even in a year when there is little hope for the Red Sox, the big wheels keep on turning. It’s like the L Street Brownies swimming on New Year’s Day and U-Hauls clogging the Back Bay on Labor Day. It is part of the Boston experience.
Truck Day was a big deal around here back around 2005. Fans clogged Van Ness and Jersey Streets and local TV and radio stations breathlessly covered the spectacle. It was one of those “only in Boston” things. I’m pretty sure there’s no fanfare when the Angels annually pack up and drive their stuff from Orange County to Tempe Diablo Stadium in Arizona.
But it’s always been something of an event in the Hardball Hub. Growing up in Central Massachusetts in the 1960s, I remember an annual cornball newspaper photo of the Red Sox equipment truck leaving Fenway for Scottsdale, Ariz. It was a warm reminder that another wicked winter would end, and that maybe Tony C and Yaz could get the moribund Red Sox to play .500 ball just one time.
In the 1980s, local radio legend Eddie Andelman learned that the Sox truck got lost en route to Winter Haven, Fla., and called the Georgia State Police (on air) to launch a search party. Back then, people here cared about the upcoming baseball season.
As a young sports columnist, I wandered over to Fenway to talk to the guys loading the truck in February 1991. The C. Bain Company of Woburn moved the Sox in those days, and cargo included the usual bats, balls, gloves, spikes, sunflower seeds, strollers, baby seats, bicycles, and one of Mike Greenwell’s toy gators. Those Sox also packed canisters of Skoal, but that’s gone now. MLB has banned the stuff from its clubhouses.
In ’91, cynical me wrote, “The players’ wallets will arrive under separate cover. The wallets will be secured in an armored truck. The wallet truck has the heavier road.”
The 1991 Red Sox’ total payroll was $32.7 million. Chris Sale, who has pitched in 11 games over the last three seasons, is on the books for $30 million this year.
Truck Day was formalized by the Sox early in the 21st century by club choreographer/maestro Charles Steinberg after John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino bought the ball club in 2001.
“Anyone who grows up in cold weather is dying to see any sign of spring this time of year,” mused Dr. Charles this week. “We felt the hunger fans had for baseball, for spring training, and this was the earliest sign we have of that. We didn’t do anything formal in our first full season. But in 2003 we decided to make it a kind of preseason event that might lead to a desired rolling rally in October.
“That’s a quiet week before the Super Bowl every year, and you can fill it up with a good story that makes people feel good.”
Sox owners brought on JetBlue as the official Truck Day sponsor in 2010.
“It’s just a distinctive feature of Boston Red Sox baseball,” CEO Lucchino said in 2013. “I’ve been in three cities and nowhere is there anything that compares to Truck Day here in Boston.
“It’s just a nice, positive thing, and it’s a testimony to the deep, unabiding passion the Red Sox fans have.”
Lucchino said those words a long time ago — back when the Red Sox were popular and championship-driven.
The New England sports landscape is very different now. Lucchino was kicked to the curb after losing Jon Lester in 2014, and since then we’ve seen the departures of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Dave Dombrowski, Mookie Betts, and Xander Bogaerts. And a bunch of last-place finishes.
The Red Sox have fallen out of favor with local fans. But Truck Day rolls on. And just like every other year, hope will be heading south from Fenway during lunch hour Friday.