An old cow bone arrived first. It was followed down a ramp by a couple of metal baseball baskets, mounted on wheels and used during batting practice.
Then came exercise equipment, boxes marked “Louisville Slugger” and Jayson “Werth shoes,” red cases and navy blue duffel bags with a large curly “W.”
Baseball equipment, thousands of pieces in all shapes and sizes, was carried out of the back of a 53-foot tractor-trailer Thursday morning, marking the official arrival for the first time of the Washington Nationals baseball team to its new spring home, The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
The actual baseball players? They won’t arrive for another 12 days or so. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report Feb. 15.
But when they do, their new clubhouse will be stocked and ready for spring training — thanks in part to a guy named P.J. Kennedy and his fellow workers at Victory Vans Corp.
Kennedy drove the tractor-trailer, its sides decorated with Nationals logos, from Washington, D.C., a 985-mile journey that started Tuesday morning when the truck was loaded with baseball equipment at Nationals Park.
The Nationals gave the truck quite the send-off, with Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and other large-headed presidential mascots helping load the baseball loot.
Teddy jumped into the driver’s seat to blow the horn. Then, Kennedy climbed into the cab and steered it south on Interstate 95 toward West Palm Beach. He stopped overnight Tuesday in Florence, S.C., and Wednesday in Fort Pierce: “I slept in the truck,” he said.
After exiting at 45th Street around 6:30 a.m. Thursday, Kennedy steered the truck down Military Trail and pulled into the new $150 million ballpark. He negotiated a series of three-point turns at the base of the main stadium and backed the trailer up to the Nationals clubhouse, where equipment managers Mike Wallace, Matt Rosenthal and their staff started unloading it at 8:30 a.m.
“It’s just like moving into a new home,’’ said Wallace, a veteran equipment manager.
“None of the uniforms have gotten here yet; they’ll be coming from (manufacturer) Majestic. But we’ve got bats, balls, T-shirts, anything and everything for a player to use.’’
Even an old femur bone from a cow, bolted to a vintage school desk.
Called a “bat bone,” it might be the most unusual baseball tool in the clubhouse. Players rub their ash bats across the femur to compress the wood grain and improve the barrel’s durability.
The same “bat bone” that arrived in West Palm Beach was found by Wallace in a butcher shop 35 years ago. It has been used by generations of baseball hitters for teams Wallace has worked for — from Kansas City Royals batting champion George Brett to Montreal Expos slugger Vladimir Guerrero to Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
“Zim uses it the most. He likes to teach the younger guys how to use it,” said Wallace, who eventually mounted the bone on an old school desk he found in Montreal.
Wallace didn’t have time to reminisce. He disappeared into the back of the truck and emerged again, wheeling another box of equipment down a ramp and into the new clubhouse.
“Once we get done here,” he said, “we will start setting it all up in the clubhouse so when we open the door for business everything is ready to go.”
The Nationals will share the complex with the Houston Astros. The Astros’ equipment truck leaves Houston early next week, bound for West Palm Beach.