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It's 1:30 Saturday afternoon, more than six hours before the first pitch of this city's first World Series game in 18 years, and already there's a bustle all along Yawkey Way, the main drag outside Fenway Park.

Hundreds of Red Sox fans adorned with caps and jerseys are milling about, breathing in the atmosphere, compensating for their lack of tickets by scurrying about for the crumbs of the occasion.

The souvenir shops across the street from Fenway are thriving. The crowd at the corner of Yawkey Way and Van Ness Street erupts in wild cheers, a tell-tale sign that a Red Sox player has just pulled his vehicle into the parking lot. Children are raised onto the shoulders of a parent, bettering their chances of catching a glimpse. Adults crane their own necks, striving for a mental keepsake of their own.

A worker wearing a Red Sox jacket spots a truck with a cherry-picker approaching and asks fans to clear a path on the sidewalk. The vehicle inches forward, stops, and the purpose of the mission becomes readily apparent. Fenway's brick facade along Yawkey Way is lined with banners representing the franchises' accomplishments, the division titles, the American League pennants, the World Series championship of 1918. It is here that history is recorded, for better or worse.

A man emerges from the truck with the newest banner in hand, the one Red Sox fans will point to with giddy fondness for generations to come. It symbolizes the implausible seven-game conquest of the hated Yankees, the Evil Empire, and the American League pennant it produced. How fitting it is that hanging the banner turns into a struggle. The anchor bolts are too short and longer ones must be summoned from the truck. With the Red Sox, nothing comes easy. Nothing at all.

On Landsdowne Street, a/k/a Ted Williams Way, a line of some 200 fans stretches along the outside of the Green Monster, baseball's most distinct outfield wall. Any tickets returned by the Cardinals go on sale at 4 p.m. There's bound to be a few, as there always is, although fans past the line's halfway point are exceedingly wishful.

Matt Files, Pat Taylor and Ian Hunter are three buddies from Connecticut. The three college students epitomize the extraordinary regional devotion to New England's baseball team, the hub of its sporting identity. The sign at the ticket window states that the ticket line may assemble no more than five hours in advance of a game. Ha. That's a good one.

Files, Taylor and Hunter have been here since 4 p.m. Thursday, enduring overnight temperatures in the 40s with the hope enough tickets become available to get them into Game One. Fifteen people are ahead of them.

"There's a rumor going around quite a few tickets are going to be available," says Hunter, 19. "According to a source who did this for the '86 Series and the ('99) All-Star Game, they say it's sold out but tickets always become available."

"You have no problem blowing off school when you get this opportunity," says Files, 29. "This is what we know. This is who we are."

"We'll gladly take standing room," Hunter says, his friends nodding in agreement. "We just want to be inside."

These aren't the Patriots. This isn't the Super Bowl. It's the Red Sox in the Series, the Red Sox confronting their demonic past, and no organization exerts greater sway on the passions of the region.

"The Patriots are too good. That's the problem," Taylor said. "They don't have the history. The city of Boston has been waiting 86 years to win a World Series. A lot of people think beating the Yankees was big, but that's just a part of it. Beating the Yankees was just one piece of the puzzle."

There's more work to be done, the most important work to be done. That's why Dan Leavitt from Milton, Mass., is here, positioned at the corner of Yawkey and Van Ness, his son Danny, 10, by his side.

"This is his first one, so I figured we'd shoot by the city," Dan said. "It would be nice if we could get tickets, but at least we'll suck up some of the atmosphere, maybe get a glimpse of a few players coming in."

You wonder if Danny comprehends what this is all about, the years of anguish that have proceeded the opportunity at hand, the profound relief it will be throughout New England if the Sox ever finish the job.

"I'm not sure he does," Dan said. "It's come easy to him. The Patriots have won two Super Bowls and now he's experiencing a World Series in his few short years. So I probably doubt he knows."

Yeah, Danny Leavitt's had it easy, easier than his father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather. Reversing the curse is a quest that overlaps multiple generations, a mission that extends beyond geographical boundaries. It's an obsession that can be fully appreciated only by those in commune with the Cubs.

"That's part of the fun, taking that (history) out there with you," said Boston's Curt Schilling, tonight's Game Two starter. "This park, these people, you don't go to the mound here with 35,000 people. You go to the mound with about 15 or 20 million people living and breathing on every pitch. That's a pretty awesome experience."


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