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Before-dawn vigil brings front-row reward

Leaving home in Dover, N.H., at 3 a.m., Kyle Crouse thought she'd be the first to claim a prime viewing spot on Cambridge Street for yesterday's Red Sox victory parade in Boston. But to her surprise, Shaina Rainville had beaten her there -- not by a few minutes, but by eight long hours.

''She was sound asleep when I got here. Just lying on the ground," said Crouse, 49, shaking her head.

''We were here at 11:30 last night," said Rainville, 20, a Lasell College student who camped out on a cold sidewalk Friday with her friend Shelbe Wright to cheer for Red Sox second baseman Mark Bellhorn. ''We talked to the cops. We watched the people setting up the barriers. We basically froze. But we've been waiting for this moment since we were little. Even if they win next year, it won't be like this again."

For thousands of eager Red Sox fans, getting a good seat to watch history in the making wasn't good enough. It was the front row or nothing for yesterday's parade, no matter how early they had to arrive.

By the hundreds, fans began plopping down folding chairs on sidewalks from Boylston Street to the Boston Common to the Esplanade hours before dawn. Huddling for warmth inside tents or sleeping bags or parked cars, many watched sleepily for Dunkin' Donuts to open at 5 a.m. so they could buy their morning coffee. Others played cards, read books, sneaked alcohol, drew posters -- anything to pass the time until the parade began.

Mary Tarantino and her crew, who arrived in Boston in the middle of the night from Wallingford, Conn., savored the moment by walking around Fenway Park and posing for photos alongside a statue of Ted Williams, while the ancient ballpark was still quiet and dark.

Tarantino hadn't envisioned arriving in Boston so early until she and her traveling mates got swept up in Friday's preparade euphoria.

''It started out that we were going to leave at 4 a.m.," she said, minutes before doing the wave with fellow fans along Boylston Street as the parade began. ''Then it was 3 a.m. Then 2 a.m. All of a sudden, at 1 a.m., we just jumped in the car and came."

''This is history," said Al Herget, 52, who drove the group's van and inspired the early departure from Wallingford. ''I couldn't get tickets to the games, so this is the best we could do."

Aaron Johnston and his pals, who arrived on Boylston Street about 10:30 Friday night from Albany, N.Y., passed the hours by playing whiffleball in a McDonald's parking lot near Jersey Street, where it even snowed a few flakes around 3:30 a.m.

''We're a bunch of idiots," said his friend Steve Dunn, 32, remarking on their tiring, all-night venture. ''Just like the Red Sox."

Snow, rain, cold, and uncomfortable cement sidewalks did not drain the energy of paradegoers, even those who waited the longest to see their favorite players ride by on a duck boat.

Andrew Lindsey, 8, of Lynn, was asked how tired he was on a scale of 1 to 10 after rising at 4:45 a.m. to get to the parade. ''Five," he said after a moment of thought.

Asked how excited he was, he didn't hesitate. ''Ten," he said.

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