This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.
Outside the Rogers Centre, a cluster of impatient, heavily bundled fans lined up in frigid weather to score tickets for opening night. Inside, spring was just around the corner for Kevin Malloy, his clubhouse crew and the Toronto Blue Jays.
Outside, single tickets for the Red Sox game on April 8 sold out in less than half an hour. Inside, Malloy and Co. were loading up stuff for the boys of spring.
It was truck day for the defending American League East champions on Thursday. Malloy, the team's clubhouse manager since 1996, had been packing, labeling and itemizing for several weeks. The list included the mundane—bats, helmets, free weights, a pitching machine—and the offbeat, such as 1,200-plus obsolete baseballs, 54 bobbleheads and one hockey net for a certain left-handed relief pitcher.
By 1:30 PM, everything had been loaded, and the big truck rolled out of the stadium catacombs and into shimmering sunshine, bound for Dunedin, Florida. Its ETA is early Monday morning, roughly a week before pitchers and catchers assemble for their first official workout of spring training. (Monday forecast for Dunedin: 20 degrees Celsius, maybe a shower or two.)
Among the items coming off the truck in Florida:
BUD BALLS: The Blue Jays need to use up 102 dozen baseballs with former commissioner Bud Selig's signature on them. They were left behind after new boss Rob Manfred took over in August. The Jays will use them in Florida, but not in exhibition games, because Major League Baseball commissions specially stamped balls for spring games. And when the season starts, Manfred balls will again be the coin of the realm. Expect some of those Bud balls to wind up in minor-league camp.
BOBBLIN' BAUTISTA: Three cases, each containing 18 of his bobbleheads, will be waiting for Jose Bautista when he arrives in camp. Malloy said Bautista uses them for charity, often in connection with his foundation. Another box contains some of Bautista's game-used equipment—gloves, cleats, jerseys—some of which he may use again or, more likely, give to charity.
CECIL'S NET: An avid Washington Capitals fan, reliever Brett Cecil enjoys the occasional game of street hockey with his teammates. That net jammed against the ceiling in the truck is to make those scrimmages legit.
SIGNED STICKS: Speaking of hockey, the Jays' freight also includes a couple of autographed sticks. Steven Stamkos signed one for Lightning fan Dioner Navarro in the clubhouse last summer. Navarro, a Tampa resident, didn't get to collect it after the playoffs, then signed with the White Sox, so Malloy will deliver it to him in Florida. Malloy will also present Troy Tulowitzki with a stick inscribed: "Lots of respect for the way you play, John Tavares."
ORPHANED BATS: When players move on to other teams, they often leave bats behind. Ben Revere, for example, had a new shipment of bats delivered to Kansas City in hopes that he might use them in the World Series. Alas, the Jays' run ended in KC and Revere was soon off to Washington in the Drew Storen trade, leaving behind a fresh set of sticks that will go to minor-league camp in Dunedin, where prospects will fight over them. Ditto for the bats abandoned by Dioner Navarro, Danny Valencia, Cliff Pennington and Steve Tolleson.
BARELY USED BATS: On the off-chance a hurler has to hit in a National League park during exhibition play, Malloy packs the pitchers' personal bats. Marco Estrada has a Sam Bat, made of Canadian maple. (Don't laugh. He had two hits in six at-bats last season.) Malloy says R.A. Dickey uses "the biggest bat in baseball"—a 36.5-inch model that weighs 34 ounces. Most big leaguers prefer a 34-inch, 32-ounce bat, Malloy says. He said Dickey likes a fatter bat to help him bunt—and to improve his chances of making contact. (Dickey went 0-for-3 with a sac bunt last season. He has 36 hits in his 13-year career.)
In relative terms, the Blue Jays' truck was a few boxes shy of a load. After their dream season ended in Kansas City last October, the club shipped most of the training staff's equipment and supplies directly to Dunedin. But when the truck returns to Toronto in April, it will bulge at the seams. "They'll open the doors and stuff will be falling out," Malloy said.
Besides the trainers' stuff, players will add a few items to the load. Think of how much you take on vacation, and how much you bring back.
The Blue Jays' first full-squad workout is set for Feb. 26. Their first exhibition game: Tuesday, March 1, against the Phillies in Clearwater.
Are you feelin' it?
All photos by John Lott