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Feeling on Top of the Sports World

Championship: Phoenix fans, charged by a World Series win, revel in once-forsaken downtown streets.


PHOENIX — Start spreadin' the news . . .

With a cacophony of car horns, sirens, fireworks and screams, this unlikely desert outpost let loose in celebration over its new title: city of champions.

They like the sound of it, and the noise is not likely to die down any time soon.

The instant that the Arizona Diamondbacks scored the winning run to beat the New York Yankees, 3-2, in the bottom of the ninth inning in the World Series on Sunday night, this city was engulfed by a sonic eruption.

It was the sound of a no-account burg beating New York, and its civic chest, all at once.

The 25,000-plus fans who came early in the day and set up beach chairs, La--Z--Boys and camp stools in the street along Diamond Drive next to the stadium maintained an eerie silence in the game's final, tense moments.

Like a scene from a drive-in movie, minus the vehicles, those fans who were not among the fortunate inside Bank One Ballpark watched Game 7 on a huge screen erected outside. The screen's audio was not sufficient, however, and determined Phoenix fans swarmed into the adjacent parking garage, tuned their car radios to the game and rolled down the windows. Cheers and applause inside the stadium were accompanied by honking outside.

Brian Breland beat a red plastic horn against a tambourine. His wife, Lupita, kept time shaking a black wand topped with snake rattles on the end.

"We love them, we love them!" Lupita said. "They have brought this city together. We finally have a winner."

The fact that thousands had flocked to this once-moribund downtown was due, in part, to a plan centered on Phoenix's professional sports teams. First an arena and then the state-of-the-art baseball stadium were built on the southern edge of the business district, using public money. City officials gambled that the venues would create a lively enough atmosphere to entice downtown workers to stay after hours--and lure suburban-dwellers as well.

Sunday night's scene likely was just what civic leaders had in mind. Fans came early. They flooded into the bars and restaurants ringing the sports complexes. They were in no hurry to go home.

"We didn't clear them out of here until after 3 a.m. last night," said one police officer, referring to the crowds after the Diamondbacks' Game 6 victory on Saturday. "I don't think anybody plans to leave tonight."

Phoenix's broad avenues--designed for optimum traffic flow--on Sunday night resembled New Orleans' Bourbon Street. Revelry had displaced SUVs and minivans. Pedicabs--their perspiring drivers waving white towels and clanging bike bells--were doing a brisk business.

The streets were teeming with purple and teal-clothed fans. Strangers hugged. Indiscriminate high-fiving broke out. Ragged cheers were begun, and sore throats answered the call. Traffic moved slowly or not at all around the Civic Center--teenagers led celebratory cheers from the beds of pickup trucks. Honking at red lights did not invoke anger, but returned happy honking.

The sheer volume of humanity was awesome. Some 49,000 fans poured out of ballpark after the game, roaring through downtown streets. Just when the area seemed full to bursting, the throng was joined by Phoenix Suns fans leaving America West Arena a few blocks away.

It's a new day when police officers are high-fived by beer-toting pedestrians. But here was Officer Gary Vigneault, palms slapped red from raised hands in the riot of glee passing in front of him.

"I've been here for 40 years, and we haven't won anything. Now we are the world champions! This is it!" he shouted, his voice rising above the din.

He even confessed to having hugged his partner. Hard. The flack-jacketed officer next to Vigneault hung his head and laughed.

Intermittent rain hardly dampened the festivities. In fact, it was a welcome relief after temperatures hit the mid-90s during the day.

Police and security personnel were out in force but had an easy time of it amid the happy chaos. Helicopters swooped overhead. But even as fans turned entire blocks of downtown into honking, rollicking parking lots and the shrill din of sporting ecstasy echoed off high-rises, there was no sign of violence. Except the assault to a city's eardrums.

"It's great, it means we're a baseball city, finally!" screamed Audrey Reichart. "I plan to brag for a long time."

This is the time of year that visitors from the East Coast begin to arrive in Arizona, clogging the early-bird buffets and golf courses. As welcome as the snowbirds will be, anyone from New York will get an earful of it this year.

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