Moving Day: Tigers truck heads south
Annual tradition signifies new season on the horizon
DETROIT -- The Tigers front office spends the offseason trying to prepare for a run to October. Clubhouse manager Jim Schmakel spends his offseason getting ready for Truck Day.
When the Tigers head to Florida to begin their Spring Training workouts, their gear has already made the trek. The equipment that players use in Detroit all summer is the same equipment they use in the spring. Essentially, the Tigers pack up their Major League clubhouse and move it south to warmer climates.
After 34 seasons, Schmakel knows what Truck Day means, not just to himself, but to the fans. The sight of the Tigers packing up and heading south gets people in Michigan looking forward to baseball and warm weather soon heading north.
"Everything that we use during the season here, we basically pack up," Schmakel said.
The equipment leaves a sight when it's ready to go. Come Opening Day, the Tigers clubhouse at Comerica Park will be filled with players, noise and nerves. On Monday, it was a giant pile of boxes -- some of them filled to the lid and taped up, others empty and waiting for more gear.
The end result of all that packing is the sight of Schmakel walking into the clubhouse and being surrounded by boxes of all shapes and sizes, with room for a few different walking paths.
"We probably have fifty of those big boxes," Schmakel said, as he looked toward a stack of boxes big enough to fit a person.
The contents show a history of baseball. There's the box with the historic hat stretcher, a gift the Tigers received from the former president of the New Era hat company after he visited the team and saw players struggling to fit caps.
That is, by far, the oldest item that goes on the truck. On the opposite end is the electronic gear packed by the Tigers video operations department, a sign of the new emphasis on multimedia instruction.
Just because teams don't need to scout opponents in Spring Training doesn't mean they don't scout themselves. When the Tigers take batting practice in Lakeland, Fla., even on the back fields, there's a chance there's a camera somewhere.
There's the weight equipment that allows players such as Miguel Cabrera to continue their workout programs into camp. Boxes and boxes of bats make their way south, too, as does a new season's worth of gear from Major League Baseball and its suppliers. So do the clubhouse player chairs -- lots and lots of chairs.
Sometimes, a car makes its way onto the caravan. The bicycle Schmakel uses to zip around the Tigertown complex is always on there; he'd never keep up with all his duties without it.
Add it up, then throw in luggage and gear from Tigers front-office personnel and media -- yes, even reporters can throw some bags in there -- and the best estimate puts the total Tigers freight as high as 45,000 pounds. What used to fit on one moving truck now takes up two -- one packed to the top with clubhouse gear, the other at least half filled with more clubhouse and front-office gear, along with what's left.
The first of those trucks was packed Monday morning for a Monday night departure. From there, Schmakel and his staff of assistants hand over the contents to the folks at Frisbie Moving and Storage, a Detroit moving company that has handled the Tigers for at least as long as Schmakel has been with the team.
Frank Kopitz and Bob MacDonald have been driving the trucks long enough to know the sights, twists and turns of Interstate 75 through the South and into the Sunshine State.
On Monday, as one pile of boxes after another made its way up the loading dock, MacDonald watched it come together to make sure the weight was distributed throughout the trailer. He's had enough years doing this to know how to piece together the puzzle. The heavy lifting was up to the crew; his work loomed ahead.
"Honestly, it's kind of like a vacation for me," he said with a smile.
Come Wednesday, Schmakel and his crew of college interns -- many of them sports management students looking for experience with a Major League team -- will greet the first truck and unload everything. By the time formal workouts begin for pitchers and catchers next week, the Lakeland clubhouse will have all the comforts of home for them.
As big of a task as it is, MacDonald said, it isn't all that difficult for them. The real challenge, he said, is packing everything up again at the end of Spring Training and getting it back up north and unpacked in time for Opening Day within a day or two.
At that point, they're also adding in gear for players who make the Opening Day roster. It isn't all just baseball equipment. Sometimes, it's television sets. Sometimes, in one case, it's more fragile stuff. One year, it was an antique gun a player found and bought in Florida for a collectible.
There's usually a story every year, and yet the message is the same: Baseball is back. It just needed a lift.