In a sure sign that spring is just around the corner, the Red Sox equipment truck left FenwayPark shortly after noon today headed on a 1,500 mile journey to JetBluePark in Fort Myers, FL, the club’s spring training headquarters.  Several hundred loyal Red Sox fans were on hand as the 18-wheeler with “Big Things Ahead” on its side headed towards Yawkey Way.

If this seems like an early departure you are correct.  Because the World Baseball Classic will take place during spring training all of the spring training dates have been moved up about one week.  Red Sox Pitchers and catchers report on February 12 and the whole squad is expected on February 15.

The day the equipment truck leaves for spring training is an official holiday for Red Sox Nation.  The Minnesota Twins equipment truck left for Fort Myers yesterday, but you can be sure it wasn’t covered by the Minneapolis television stations.

The departure of the Red Sox equipment truck hasn’t always been a big deal.  In fact, through the 1950’s the equipment was shipped south by train.  When spring training ended, the players and their equipment “barnstormed” north over a two week period, stopping each day to play an exhibition game.  Usually the Red Sox would pair up with another major league team to share the train and the gate receipts.

On March 31, 1901, the newly-formed Boston Americans (the Red Sox name wasn’t adopted until 1908) met at South Station and took the train to their first training camp in Charlottesville, VA.  What was the Red Sox furthest destination for spring training?  In 1911, the Red Sox spring training headquarters was in Redondo Beach, CA.

But that is only part of the story.  The Red Sox traveled cross-country and back by train, playing 63 exhibition games en route.  Bill Nowlin wrote an excellent book on this epic journey entitled The Great Red Sox Spring Training Tour of 1911:

How about the shortest journey?  That would be the eight mile trip from Fenway Park to the campus of TuftsUniversity in Medford, MA, in 1943.  World War II travel restrictions forced the Red Sox to use the Tufts Cage for in-door practice, but an early spring allowed them to practice outside on five days.

The Red Sox equipment truck is on its way to Fort Myers.  And pretty soon—February 21 to be exact—they will be playing ball and keeping score.

Can spring in New England be far behind?