Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos is there to greet, help offload truck at Bright House Field.
CLEARWATER — The skies might have been overcast here early Saturday, but there was excitement in the air and smiles on faces at Bright House Field anyway.
That's because at around 8 a.m., the Philadelphia Phillies' equipment truck backed into the parking lot of the ballpark on Old Coachman Road after a two-day, 1,000-mile journey. “Truck day” is an event that signifies the start of spring training for baseball fans.
A small crowd of stadium workers, team and city officials, including Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, greeted the trailer, which was filled with thousands of items, from bats and uniforms to bikes and even a hot dog launcher.
“This is exciting for Clearwater to welcome back the Phillies for the 68th year,” Cretekos said. “We have a very special relationship with the Phillies. Only Detroit has trained in the same city longer.”
Frank Coppenbarger, the Phillies' director of team travel and clubhouse service, oversees the moving operation, from ordering equipment to making sure players and team personnel have essential belongings transported to their spring home.
“This is the culmination of an entire offseason of planning and work,” he said. “It starts right when the regular season ends with ordering equipment, and it continues through truck day, when we load it up and take it to our home in Clearwater for the next two months.
“It's definitely a full-time job. We work 12 months a year. It's like moving your entire house for two months and then doing it all over again.”
The ritual of seeing the team truck travel from the frosty Northeast to the sunny South is special for fans in Philadelphia, Coppenbarger said, especially when they're suffering through a winter as brutal as this one has been.
“It warms people up,” he said.
Cretekos said the connection Phillies fans have with their team is unique, leading to people equating a tractor-trailer with newfound optimism.
“The truck rode around downtown Philly before it left for Clearwater, just so people could get a glimpse of it,” he said. “We don't get that sense of tradition the citizens of Philadelphia have with the team. It's a unique bond.
“We look forward to their fans coming down here from Philly again and starting the year off with a home run.”