Marlins Worshipped In Florida

Their heads turned to the sky in unison, eyes squinting against a late afternoon sun as the charter plane began its descent.

Their chants began rising in volume quickly, as if they were trying to drown out the noise screaming out of the jet's engines. And the shouts didn't stop until every player, coach and official from the new kings of baseball passed by for a quick wave, handshake or picture.

Thousands of Florida Marlins fans turned out to welcome home the World Series champions Sunday afternoon, a fitting show of appreciation for a team which transformed itself from moribund to magical over the past four months.

"It's got to be uplifting for the community," manager Jack McKeon said after he stepped off the plane. "This is a great story, maybe the story of the century."

Added rookie pitcher Dontrelle Willis, already a fan favorite: "You can't get enough of this. You see this and you just want to keep playing hard for these people."

Across the region, fans largely spent Sunday the same way they spent the moments which followed the Marlins' 2-0 title-clinching win over the New York Yankees the previous night - celebrating.

Newly printed World Series merchandise was selling as quickly as it could be delivered, drivers took to the streets with Marlins flags attached to their cars and people admitted they were planning to call in sick on Tuesday, when the team will be feted with parades and rallies in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

"Our fans have been incredible," said team owner Jeffrey Loria, the first to step off the plane. "They've been behind us the whole way and they deserve this."

Loria said he wished he could have been home for the long celebration which didn't stop until the wee hours of Sunday morning, as an estimated 50,000 delirious fans partied in the downtown streets. Children ran through the streets, well past their bedtime. Elderly women stood in front of their homes wearing robes and slippers. Some fans even cried.

"I was sleeping when the game finished," said Jose Marquez, who lives in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. "I couldn't stay up; I go to work at 4 in the morning. I wanted to stay up, but my wife said we'll get woken up when everyone starts blowing their horns."

Sure enough, the horns began blaring moments after Marlins ace and World Series MVP Josh Beckett tagged the Yankees' Jorge Posada for the final out Saturday night. Traffic was backed up for more than two miles in the Little Havana neighborhood near the Marlins' souvenir store, the epicenter of the fans' overnight party.

One man spray-painted "Marlins World Champions 2003" on the side of his car, while a woman - wearing a wedding dress - leaned out the window of a pickup truck and waved a Marlins hat.

"It's so crazy," said Susan Miranda, 21, a student from Miami. "I'm so glad they won. It's amazing, the best feeling in the world."

Police officials said Sunday that there were no major problems related to the impromptu celebrations, outside of some traffic-related issues. Officers patrolling the area of the street celebration did not report any arrests.

"In other cities I've seen people go tearing up the streets, but in South Florida that's not our style," Miami police spokesman Delrish Moss said.