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02/10/11 6:50 PM EST
'Truck Day' signals Spring Training is near
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- The most important Dodger on Thursday was James Hall, a 75-year-old trucker from Nashville. At noon, Hall, his wife and his 18-wheeler loaded with baseball gear pulled out of the Dodger Stadium parking lot headed for Arizona, and the Dodgers really can't have their first Spring Training workout next Thursday without him -- or at least without that gear. For 29 years, Hall has hauled the club's equipment to Spring Training and back, round-trip from Los Angeles to Vero Beach until the venue was relocated to the Cactus League three years ago. Hall was due into Camelback Ranch-Glendale around dinnertime. When his rig is offloaded, he'll pick up fresh cargo and head back to the East Coast, his moonlight gig done until the end of March, when he'll bring the bats and balls back to California. The connection for Hall to the Dodgers was Bob Smith, the retired former stadium director and a Tennessee schoolmate of Hall's. "He asked me to do it in 1982, and I've been doing it ever since," Hall said. "I'm always on time. Never been late." Hall said he liked it better when the Dodgers trained in Florida. "More money," he said of the longer trip. Despite being a lifelong Tennessee resident, Hall said he's been a Dodgers fan since the club played in Brooklyn, for a very simple reason. "I didn't like the Yankees," he said. "Still don't." Hall's normal cargo is air conditioners east to west and hot tubs west to east. On this day, the trailer that can handle as much as 20 tons was filled with 10 tons of bats and balls, bubble gum and sunflower seeds, exercise equipment and medical supplies. "We've got three pallets of bottled water right there," said Mitch Poole, the club's equipment manager who loaded his first truck for Spring Training 25 years ago. "We take all the helmets, the uniforms, equipment bags, weight room equipment, pine tar, the Delaware River mud to rub up the balls. Whatever we need for Spring Training." Poole said the club goes through nearly 10,000 baseballs during a Spring Training. More will be delivered by the manufacturer directly to Camelback Ranch. "We're using more baseballs in Arizona than we did in Florida because the top of the soil is more coarse, the air's thinner and there are more fans," he said, meaning that the more fans around, the more balls somehow become souvenirs. Players and staff also send luggage and other personal items they might need. They range from the usual suitcases and golf clubs to the unusual. "One guy pretty much sent an entire car -- in pieces," Poole recalls. "I mean, we were loading spare tires onto the truck and everything. Sometimes it's a chair or a television." Hall said the most unusual item he can recall was a king-sized mattress. Although it's a relatively small job, Hall has no desire to give up hauling the Dodgers' cargo. It does come with perks you can't get hauling air conditions and hot tubs. "One time in Vero Beach, my wife and I went into the cafeteria and we were all by ourselves eating at a table and this real tall guy walked in and asked if he could sit with us," Hall said. "It was Duke Snider." Hall said Snider was his favorite Brooklyn Dodger and listed Bill Russell as his favorite Los Angeles Dodger, along with Fernando Valenzuela, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey and Eric Karros.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.