2/4/2013 7:00 P.M. ET
Truck Day at Turner Field signals dawn of new era
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
ATLANTA -- Boxes, crates and bags were stacked to the ceiling as Braves employees entered the home clubhouse at Turner Field early on Monday morning. By mid-afternoon, the bats, balls, uniforms and other items that filled these containers had been placed on a truck that was bound for the team's Spring Training complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Moving has seldom been recognized as an act that generates much excitement. But countless baseball fans annually anticipate the day in which their favorite club essentially relocates to the city it calls home during Spring Training.
This day has become widely recognized as "Truck Day." The departure of these moving trucks provides tangible proof that the dawn of a new season truly is right around the corner.
"This is my favorite part of the year, really," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You start getting the itch to get down there and smell the grass and hear the sounds of the bat hitting the ball and guys playing catch. It's a good time. You're ready to get going."
Braves pitchers and catchers are required to report to ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex by Feb. 11. But many players, including first baseman Freddie Freeman, are expected to arrive in the Orlando area this week.
On Monday, Freeman used Twitter to say:
"It's almost here!! Heading down south tmrw! Baseball season is near!"
It's almost here!! Heading down south tmrw! Baseball season is near!— Freddie Freeman (@FreddieFreeman5) February 4, 2013
This eager anticipation is shared by visiting clubhouse manager John Holland, who is preparing for his 38th Spring Training with the Braves. Holland and head athletic trainer Jeff Porter flew from Atlanta to Orlando early Monday afternoon.
"You're sad to leave home, but it's fun," Holland said. "I love it. It's like my wife said, when I am retired, I will miss it. That's the God's honest truth. I'll miss every bit of it."
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons is also expected to be among the early arrivals at Braves' camp this year. Simmons could be away from Atlanta's camp for at least two weeks while competing for The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.
Hensley Meulens, who will manage The Netherlands team, told Gonzalez that he plans to utilize Simmons as his leadoff hitter, a role he's expected to fill for the Braves, who were left with limited options when speedy outfielder Michael Bourn was lost to free agency.
Simmons batted .298 with a .335 on-base percentage in the 182 plate appearances he compiled after making his Major League debut in June.
"I told [Meulens], 'You can put him wherever you want to win a ballgame,'" Gonzalez said. "He's only going to see two pitches, and he's going to hit one for a double. Don't go out there thinking he's going to take a six-pitch at-bat and then walk."
One of the team's newcomers is third baseman Chris Johnson, who was acquired along with Justin Upton in the seven-player trade with Arizona two weeks ago. Johnson joined Mike Minor and pitching prospect J.R. Graham as a few of the players who completed their workout at Turner Field on Monday morning.
While Minor will go to camp for the first time all but assured of a spot in the Braves rotation, Johnson will go to Spring Training looking to earn as much time as possible at third base. The current plan is for him to begin the season platooning at the hot corner with Juan Francisco.
But Johnson, who combined to hit .281 with 15 home runs and a .777 OPS for the Astros and D-backs last year, remains hopeful to assume Chipper Jones' former position on a full-time role. Johnson happened to play collegiately at Stetson University for longtime coach Pete Dunn, who is Jones' godfather.
"I haven't been in [a platoon] before," Johnson said. "But I'm excited about whatever I can do. Obviously I'm going to go to camp to vie for that starting job. Then once camp breaks, we'll all be part of the same team."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.