PITTSBURGH -- In the frigid early February dawn, bats, balls, helmets and the other tools of summer were loaded onto the truck for the annual trip to Bradenton, Fla.
When that truck returns to PNC Park in eight weeks, it will be packing spring.
The Pirates' 2013 season got literally rolling on Monday morning, when the equipment truck expertly packed by the team's clubhouse staff, under the direction of clubhouse manager Scott Bonnett, pulled away at 9:45 a.m. and embarked for Pirate City and another dawn, that of Spring Training.
In three days, that truck will cover 910 miles and about 65 degrees.
It's an annual rite of mid-winter and a sure sign of the approaching re-birth of mild breezes and of hope. The unloaded contents of the truck will be neatly organized in front of lockers to welcome the arrival of the players who will make good use of them.
Pittsburgh pitchers and catchers will formally report next Monday -- although quite a few of them are already in Pirate City -- and hold their first official workout on Feb. 12.
The rest of the team will pull in on Feb. 14, with the first full-squad workout scheduled for the following day.
The cargo included about 48 dozen bats, boxes of balls and bags of sunflower seeds -- and the nines of any baseball wardrobe, from undergarments to batting practice jersey tops, and everything in-between. And, oh yes -- the pierogi costumes, which will next be seen racing around the warning track of McKechnie Field.
What a confirmation that baseball still denotes renaissance, this simple, rather mundane ritual that means so much to so many people, moving them to daydream about light standards brightening warm summer nights and glistening off the Allegheny River waters flowing under the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
It's coming. We know this because the truck is going.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.