They made it long and heartfelt. About 50,000

By John Affleck Associated Press Published:

They made it long and heartfelt.

About 50,000 people packed into a downtown square for a parade and rally Tuesday to honor the American League champs who were two outs away from a World Series title before it slipped away to the Florida Marlins on Sunday.

The 3-2 loss in Game 7 made the goodbye bittersweet, but fans were ready to celebrate anyway.

"These were the best playoffs I ever saw," said Domenico Sanelli, who wore a knee-length headdress. "They hung in there until the last out."

Indians faithful scrambled up on anything handy _ trees, truck bumpers even a statue of city founder Moses Cleveland _ to get a better view of the festivities.

Some held signs with supportive messages like "Thanks," "Simply the Best" and "Forever Champions in Our Hearts."

What they saw was a parade featuring high school bands and helium balloon baseballs flowing into the square, where cheers and squeals greeted 15 Cleveland players from the World Series roster of 25.

Along the way were fans like Keith Heidenreich, decked out in an Indians jersey, sweatpants and blue face paint. He wore a radiation warning sign around his neck and had tacked on a note that said, "Caution Florida: We Will Be Back."

The squeals, from teenage girls, sounded when their new heartthrob, pitcher Jaret Wright, 21, was introduced.

The crowd chanted "M-V-P, M-V-P" when catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. went to the podium. A plane flew overhead, leading a banner that said: Sandy Alomar for Mayor.

Ellyn Vargo of Lorain sewed two giant red hearts that she wore sandwich-board style over her clothes. In stickers on the heart she had printed "We love you, Tribe."

"I was devastated by the loss," she said. "This gives us some closure."

The team probably would have enjoyed playing in Tuesday's crisp but clear weather, after playing a World Series game in snow flurries last week and in sultry weather the last two games in Miami.

Indians owner Richard Jacobs thanked the fans for "unprecedented support." The entire baseball season was sold out, as were the nine post-season games played at Jacobs Field.

"This team had a never-say-die attitude, and they played great ball," Jacobs said.

"America just found out that Cleveland has the best fans in the entire universe," said Mayor Michael R. White, who gave key to the city awards to team officials.

Pitcher Orel Hershiser thanked fans for their devotion.

"I know everyone here did a lot of praying in the last month and lost a lot of sleep," he said.

David Justice, who was on the Atlanta Braves team that beat the Indians in the 1995 World Series, told the crowd he has seen fans in a lot of cities " but I've never seen this kind of support."

As the celebration ended with fireworks and the release of red, blue and silver streamers, Indians play-by-play announcer and ceremony host Tom Hamilton said "So long, folks. We'll see you in spring training."

Joe Desatnik, a block away in the back of the crowd, stood draped in

streamers with his fists clenched above his head. "Come on, spring!" he

yelled. "Let's rock, Cleveland!"

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