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02/08/11 1:58 PM EST

Fans flock to Fenway to see truck head south

Sox faithful bubbling with enthusiasm as Spring Training nears

BOSTON -- Combine a thrilling Hot Stove season with a brutal and snow-filled winter, and Red Sox fans had perhaps even more excitement than usual for their symbolic opening of spring -- the equipment truck departing Fenway Park and heading south to Fort Myers, Fla.

Despite rain falling and much of the ground covered in slushy snow, there was a sizable contingent of Red Sox Nation present when the 18-wheeler pulled out of Fenway just after noon ET on Tuesday.

"I absolutely wouldn't miss this," said Kelly O'Connor, a die-hard Red Sox fan from Arlington, Mass. "We have the best fans in the world -- the fans of the Boston Red Sox. Everything deserves its ceremony, and I think this is the start of the baseball season. We should be here to send off the truck."

New Englanders love their baseball just as much as they despise weather that inconveniences them.

All of the elements made the day ripe for thoughts of Adrian Gonzalez clubbing a drive off the Monster and Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury pulling off a double steal.

And to have those images, all it took was a truck full of bats, balls, wrist bands, jersey tops and stacks of other equipment.

"Especially after everything that went wrong last year, after the winter we've had, after the terrific moves this front office has made to make this team better this year, I am excited for this year," O'Connor said. "I'm trying not to be too overconfident. But I am really excited for this year. It's fun. I think it's a ceremony and I think a lot of people have to observe it in the abstract. I like actually being here to see it. It's tangible."

As the truck headed out of Fenway, it was covered by a banner that said, "FIRST STOP FORT MYERS, NEXT STOP THE SERIES."

If ever there was a day for unabashed optimism, this was it.

"I've been doing this since high school and junior high," said Jason Cappuccio of Everett, Mass. "We used to skip school and come out. I moved away for a few years. This is my first winter back and soon to be summer back, so I'm just eager to see the truck go and get ready for the season."

Cappuccio recently returned to Boston after living in Las Vegas. But he kept close tabs on his hometown team during his time out of town.

"After last year, what happened with injuries, I'm ready to see them go and see the offseason acquisitions take the field," Cappuccio said. "It's a summer to look forward to, that's for sure. They should be much improved if they can stay healthy. The pitching needs to come around a little bit more, but the offense should be better."

Al Hartz of Atlas Van Lines had the honor of driving the truck to Fort Myers, a job he has been entrusted with since 1998.

"I always look forward to Florida, but this year, a little bit more than normal," said Hartz.

And at least for now, there are no more blizzards forecast to interrupt Hartz's journey.

"Let's keep our fingers crossed," Hartz said. "I'll be down there Thursday afternoon and we'll unload on Friday."

Pitchers and catchers report on Sunday, although some, including Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon, have already been spotted in early-bird workouts the last couple of days.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.