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After 24 years, bliss for St. Louis fans

In the upper reaches of Busch Stadium, in the standing-room-only section where an icy breeze blew down on the fifth game of the 2006 World Series, three defiant women wearing red-neon flashing cat's-eye glasses and sipping hot chocolate held a placard: "We're charged. We're lit."

Ditto for all St. Louis fans. After 24 years of patient waiting, the baseball loyalists of this Midwestern city were more than ready for a championship. Only two years prior, they had ceded to the Boston Red Sox, which beat both the "curse of the Bambino" and their beloved Cardinals in four straight games.

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Now, though, the fans and their city had built a new stadium. And as the saying goes, "if you build it, they will come" – championships, that is. In this case, it was the 10th world championship for the Cardinals, the most after the Yankees.

The city was to celebrate its storybook October with a parade Sunday afternoon. Also following the win, Cardinals merchandise was hotter than ever – as fans at a stadium store bought just about everything in sight.

This was a team dismissed by most professional prognosticators as an also-ran, limping into the playoffs on the heels of a precipitous losing streak. But along with its teeth-chattering fans, it was to find redemption.

As Cardinal pitcher Adam Wainwright struggled to strike out the Detroit Tigers' last batter, the fans in the upper reaches of the stadium were both agonized and exultant, knowing instinctively that the team they had painted their faces for, and wept for in 2004, was about to win.

"Get 'im out, Adam," cried a woman. "You can do it," a man screeched, his voice cracking. And then – he did.

"I confess I never thought they would actually do it, but they did," exulted Stephanie Frierdich, her pink Cardinals scarf flapping. She had attended the 2004 game in which the Cards lost it all to the Sox. "This is like a dream."

Indeed, the flashing signs declared Busch Stadium to be "baseball heaven," and there was little disagreement with that sentiment.

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"I don't even feel like I'm working," said Chris Linton, an usher at the stadium. "This is unreal. I really feel like a fan."

For Dan Davis and Dave Davis, who painted their faces red to celebrate, it was a sweet moment.

"This is the second-happiest moment of my life next to my son being born," Dan said. "He was born in February, and I'm giving him the ticket stub from this game."

Not everyone was ebullient, though. Hanging toward the back of the upper deck, clad in Detroit jerseys and caps, Steven Kenna and John McGuffie smiled sadly. After the rainout on Wednesday, with more bad weather being predicted, the pair had driven back to Detroit. Then, realizing the weather had cleared, the two drove eight hours back for the Friday night game.

"These are the nicest fans, the nicest people," Mr. Kenna said, his arm sweeping across the stadium. "They've treated us really well. Sure, I'm sorry the Tigers lost. But these guys deserve this victory."


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