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02/06/09 1:11 PM EST

Reds gear packed and headed south

Equipment on the way to Florida for Spring Training

CINCINNATI -- With frigid temperatures and major snow storms having hit the region in back-to-back weeks, signs of spring are still hard to find in Cincinnati.

But look really hard and there is one symbolic indication that a season change is near. At a loading dock inside the bowels of Great American Ball Park, a freight truck is being loaded up for the annual trip to Spring Training.

Baseball season is nearly here again.

"Seeing that truck when it pulls out, we know the next eight months are baseball. It's go time," said Reds equipment manager Rick Stowe.

The Reds began packing the truck on Thursday and will keep loading items before it departs Monday for a 976 mile journey down Interstate 75 to the team's complex in Sarasota, Fla.

Any sporting goods or memorabilia store would kill to have the type of inventory the Reds will have on their truck. The following items are headed south:

• 200 helmets
• 300 pairs of shorts
• 400 pairs of socks
• 500 hats
• 300 jerseys
• 200 fleece tops
• 1,000 bats
• 21,480 baseballs
• 1,000 T-shirts
• 100 pairs of batting gloves
• 15 cases of gum
• 15 cases of sunflower seeds
• An entire skid of coolers and cups

On top of that, there will be items like rosin bags and pine tar, and the medical staff will be sending down all of its equipment. The front office will pack up computers and files and essentially move all of its operations to Florida for seven weeks.

Stowe began loading the truck for the Reds in 1981 and his father, senior clubhouse manager Bernie Stowe, did it often during his 60-plus years with the club.

"It's getting so much easier now," Rick Stowe said. "We remember the days when the truck would sit out there and we'd put a box on and do it all by hand. Here, we have the loading dock and everything. Throughout the winter, we get the pallets together -- about 18-20 skids -- shrink-wrap them, put them on a forklift and right into the truck. It took us an hour and a half where it once took us a week. We prepare all winter for it, though."

What's the weirdest item Stowe says he ever packed up?

"Deion Sanders' fishing boat," he replied. "The whole fishing boat went on there. That was different. That took up a lot of room. It was about 10 feet long."

While sending a truck to Spring Training has become routine, this trip is unique because it's the last time the Reds are sending their stuff to Florida. Next year the club will move its spring operations to Goodyear, Ariz., and share a complex with the Indians.

With the exception of a three-year period during World War II, the Reds have trained in Florida since 1923. The club has been in Sarasota since 1998, but could not work out a deal on a new or upgraded facility with the city and county to extend the stay.

"It's the only thing we've known," Stowe said of Florida. "It's the last time that truck will be heading south. Instead, it will be west. It's kind of sad, but as much as we're going to miss Sarasota, we're really looking forward to Arizona. That complex is supposed to be state-of-the art and outstanding. It will be great working conditions for all of us and make our lives easier."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.