BOSTON -- The air was cold, the sky barely lit. But there she was at 6:40 a.m., ready to watch movers load boxes into a tractor-trailer on Van Ness Street. For Joanne Kane, a Red Sox season-ticket holder since 1984, this day -- Truck Day -- signaled the end of winter and the dawn of another baseball season.

"I knew they were going to start loading the truck at 7. It's that antsy feeling, I guess," said Kane, who woke up at 5 a.m. to make the drive in from Marlborough, Mass., about 45 minutes west. "Spring is right around the corner and baseball will be starting up."

Kane and the other couple hundred ravenously hungry fans braved the cold outside Fenway Park on Saturday morning to watch the Red Sox's equipment truck depart for Fort Myers, Fla. They witnessed the unofficial rite of spring that has become an official one, complete with press releases and TV news crews, adoring fans and Dunkin' Donuts giveaways. Wally the Green Monster -- decked out in a Hawaiian shirt -- made an appearance, and the Boston University pep band kept the atmosphere loud.

Loaded onto the 53-foot 18-wheeler -- which had "On the Road to Greatness" written on it -- were 20,400 baseballs, 1,100 bats, 400 pairs of socks and 60 cases of sunflower seeds, among other baseball necessities. Spikes belonging to Will Middlebrooks and Mike Carp made their way on, followed shortly by Jake Peavy's bag -- still adorned with a White Sox logo -- and a few Fathead wall decals.

As Red Sox executive Dr. Charles Steinberg put it, "It's like a child's baseball fantasy."

And there were plenty of children in the crowd, of course. Among them was 5-year-old Joseph Carroll, of Quincy, Mass., who made his first Truck Day trip with his father, Dennis. Joseph wasn't awake when the Red Sox won Game 6 in October, but he seemed excited to be there as the title defense geared up.

"It's a sign of spring, a sign of good weather," Dennis said.

As for the spectacle itself, most in attendance admit it's pretty silly. Standing on a sidewalk, surrounded by remnants of this week's snowstorm and watching not a whole lot makes little sense. But it's a celebration few other Major League teams, if any, see this time of year. That's part of what makes it so fun. 

"It's ridiculous," Dennis Carroll said. "It's ridiculous, but it's great. It's just the Red Sox, especially [fun] that they just won it."

Steinberg agreed. He said the fans' enthusiasm mirrors that of the players.

"A lot of guys are already down there. They're already down there working out, getting ready. It's a good thing we're sending the equipment down -- who knows what they're playing with," Steinberg said before allowing fans to try on his two World Series rings. "The fans who come out here, we're recognizing the faces -- some of these folks come every year. It's a reminder of how much baseball means to them and to all of us. It's a reminder of how personal baseball is. It is so interwoven into the fabric of their lives that on an 18-degree morning, they want to stand out in the cold and bid farewell to a truck."

Driving that truck for the nearly 1,500-mile journey for the 16th year in a row is Al Hartz, a native of nearby Milford. He watched firsthand as Truck Day grew from a mostly anonymous non-event to what it is today, New England's version of Groundhog Day.

"When I did this in [1998], I was loading the truck and there was a reporter here and there, a couple of people," said Hartz, taking a break from carrying boxes. "The new owners took over [in 2002], they organized it and here we are."

Next come the predictions. Everyone has one, but few are right. Hartz was asked for his, so he obliged.

"Back-to-back [championships]," Hartz said. "Sure."