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Good times never seemed so good

For generations of fans, the impossible is reality

It wasn't about Manny or Johnny or Pedro or Curt yesterday. It was about your father, your grandmother, your fifth-grade teacher, your Little League coach.

It was about your 12-year-old daughter, who fell in love with baseball in the summer of 2004, who learned to score a David Ortiz double and a Derek Lowe strikeout and a perfect World Series sweep.

Generations of New Englanders have dreamed of this day. Some fantasized for 86 years what it would be like if the Red Sox won a World Series. How many times did we wax poetic about the celebration that would follow the biggest event in Boston sports history? In so many ways, dreaming of the parade was almost as delicious as dreaming about the actual athletic accomplishment.

Somehow, some way, the Boston Red Sox victory march lived up to all those expectations. More than 3 million people lined the streets of Boston to pay homage to the lovable collection of ''idiots" who made our hardball hopes -- and those of our parents and grandparents -- come true. They stood in the rain and cheered until their voices were hoarse. They threw confetti, roses, and kisses. They sang the team's signature song, ''Sweet Caroline," loudly and deliriously off-key.

Although there was a private breakfast for team members and friends yesterday beginning at 7 a.m., most of the players arrived at Fenway Park closer to 9. They hastily gathered for a Sports Illustrated cover shoot, taped endorsements, and then gathered on the emerald lawn, where a fleet of duck boats awaited on the warning track, a colorful victory fleet to take them on their championship tour by land and by sea. ''When you see all of this," said Manny Ramirez, ''all those millions of people out there, that's when it hits you. We are the world champions. And these people deserve it."

For the approximately 900 people fortunate enough to be inside the ballpark before the parade began, they were treated to general manager Theo Epstein saying, ''The whole city has a smile on its face."

Tim Wakefield, the senior member of the team, was the first player to speak, followed by Jason Varitek, Orlando Cabrera, Lowe, Johnny Damon, and Gabe Kapler. Pitcher Curt Schilling, who was on crutches, did not speak (he's probably said enough, anyway).

David Ortiz, who walked out with the prime minister of his native Dominican Republic, shared a story of seeing a woman sobbing behind the dugout after the Sox lost Game 3 to the Yankees.

''I said to my players," Ortiz said, ''We have to make these people smile."

They did exactly that, over an extended parade route that began outside the ballpark and went through Copley Square, then on to Cambridge via the Charles River. Fans lined up as early as 3 a.m. for a choice view; those who wandered in later had to settle for being 10- or 12-deep in the crowd.

They were not disappointed. There was Pedro Martinez, with a sign that read, ''Idiots Rule," stuffed into the front of his pants, doing his version of a salsa victory dance. He alternately wore a batting helmet, a Dominican flag as a cape, and a ninja headband. There was Manny, holding a poster saying: ''Jeter is playing golf today. This is better." While many of the players stayed under the cover of the boat, either to avoid the rain or the incessant adulation, there was reliever Alan Embree, braving the elements and wearing a cap straight out of casting from ''Gilligan's Island."

As church bells rang in Copley Square, a boat holding past Sox players -- among them Johnny Pesky, Luis Tiant, Rich Gedman, Oil Can Boyd, Butch Hobson, and former manager Joe Morgan -- cruised through the crowd, receiving hearty cheers for their efforts through the years. Time and a championship trophy have healed all wounds.

Yet this day was truly about the fans, who flashed their own messages: ''Whose Your Papi?" and ''In Curt we Trust" and ''How Sweep it is!" They took pictures, yelled encouragement, and shared stories of their devotion to the Sox.

KayKay Clivio, owner of Charlestown Yoga, traveled to Mysore, India, last year for a month to study with a renowned yoga instructor. While she was there, she climbed 3 miles up Chamundi Hill to consult a guru about lifting the curse of the Bambino.

''I found the wrong one," Clivio said. ''He was a silent guru. He would not talk with me."

Clivio trekked back to town and found a rajah, or local dignitary, who read her palm and agreed to make an offering. ''I told him I wanted him to reverse the curse," she said. ''He performed a little ceremony, burned some incense, burned some ashes, then charged me the equivalent of $35.

''I gave him $25 and told him I'd send him the other $10 when the Red Sox won the World Series. I've been looking for his address for four days now."

Greg Dumas of Roslindale watched the parade from the corner of Charlesgate and Boylston streets and snapped photos of his favorite players.

''The best part was being so close to them," Dumas said. ''They were literally 3 feet away. But it's also been pretty neat to hear the stories of the people around us. We stood next to an older man and his three boys who drove up to Boston at 10:45 p.m. [Friday night] from Pennsylvania. They got here at 3 in the morning, and slept on the ground for a couple of hours. After the parade is over, they're driving back to Philly this afternoon."

You wonder why someone would do such a thing. You wonder why millions of people woke up so early and stood in the rain, just for a glimpse of a baseball player that was here and gone before you knew it.

The answer is simple. The Red Sox are the World Series champions, and this is their day. Whether it's five, 10, 20, or 50 years from now, fans from New England all want the right to say the same thing:

I was there.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

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