ST. LOUIS -- A city that traditionally prides itself for the "best fans in baseball" threw a long-awaited victory parade and celebration downtown on Sunday afternoon, and Cardinals president Mark Lamping had sustained goosebumps as he gave one salute after another to the red-clad throng en route to Busch Stadium.

"Our fans never cease to amaze me, and I've been here my entire life," said Lamping, who rode with his family on one of the white trucks. "Just when you think they can't do more, they do more. And no one deserves it more than them.

"What impressed me most about today was just the size of the crowd. I think all 3.4 million of our fans [in 2006] came out. Sports does that, it really brings the community together -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian. It was just awesome to see."

Cardinals fans lined a route that started at historic Union Station and stretched East on Market Street toward a new ballpark that was filled to the brim for a celebration rally featuring the 2006 world champions. Those fans inside the park had to reserve their seats a day earlier at stlcardinals.com, and those printable tickets were sold out in just over an hour, leaving many holding signs outside asking for tickets.

"We set up six computers and sat in the [online ticketing] waiting room, and then it said there were only single tickets, and finally it said there were no tickets left," said Joe Dattilo, 35, of Lake St. Louis, Mo. "Right away, they were on eBay. But we just decided to come here anyway, so my wife and our two daughters drove about 50 miles and got here at about quarter to 12. A really nice family had four extra tickets and they gave them to us outside, so we got to enjoy all of this."

Dattilo was wearing a customized Albert Pujols home jersey, and he already has asked for a David Eckstein version for Christmas. Both of those styles were the rage here. Fans chanted, "MVP! MVP!" when Eckstein's truck rolled past, and they chanted the same thing when he was introduced on the infield stage during the program.

"It was a great celebration," Dattilo said. "The parade, having all of the city of St. Louis getting into the stadium, bringing 47,000 people into this ballpark just for an hour of seeing the players one more time -- that shows you how much they cherish the players and the game of baseball here in St. Louis."

Not that there was ever any doubt about that. Two years ago when the World Series came to St. Louis and Boston won, the "best fans in baseball" tagline was well-documented and occasionally bemoaned by other fan bases. It is not something that is quantifiable, but something one hears a lot around the game, especially from players. Cardinals fans are known for generally not ragging on any opposition; wearing the birds-on-a-bat gear logo in the maternity ward and forever after; and staying in the corner of their own who are struggling. Witness the ovation given here to Chris Duncan, whose gaffes in the unfamiliar right-field position in Game 5 might have proven costly.

"I can't get over it yet," said Dan Beel of Desoto, Mo. "I've been a fan since I was a little kid. I was 9 when we beat the Brewers in '82 and I remember it. This is great to finally do it again, and to see all this in our new stadium."

St. Louisan Joe Plumley, who was born two weeks after that last world championship here, said he and a friend had tickets for Friday's clincher. Those tickets were originally for Game 4, and when Wednesday's game was rained out, there was a big demand for the ticket he was holding. That's because those fans who held original Game 5 tickets suddenly were watching Game 4, and those rained-out fans suddenly were given the chance to see history in the making.

"My friend wanted to sell them," Plumley said. "It was up to $2,000 a ticket, but it was not worth it. You had to be there."

And you had to be here, judging by the overwhelming demand on the Cardinals' Web site and by the deep crowd that lined the parade route.

Mary Mareshie, 63, of Belleville, Ill., was among the onlookers on a beautiful and sunny day perfectly made for a parade. She lost her husband, Tony, a longtime Cardinals fan, to cancer last Jan. 12, and he would have been right here beside her.

"The Cards sustained me this season. They saved me," Mareshie said. "I didn't know whether I'd be able to watch them. I saw [Cardinals pitching coach] Dave Duncan recently and I said, 'Mr. Duncan, there's a new angel in your outfield.' Just look at the Tigers' fielding in the World Series. The more errors they made, the more I just knew. It was so fitting how this ended. He was up there having something to do with that. And he probably helped with this weather, too."

Stephanie Ramirez, 23, of St. Louis held up a sign that said, "YADI IS A HOTTIE" while waiting along with her three friends for her favorite player to pass by on one of the white trucks. Yadier Molina, who had that remarkable postseason for St. Louis and provided the pennant-winning homer at Shea Stadium, probably noticed.

Why does she like Molina?

"Obviously, because he's hot," Ramirez said. "But he's a good baseball player, too. All of them are. We shut all the critics up, because no one thought we'd make it here."

Steve Simpson, 36, of St. Louis was waiting with his family at the end of the parade route just where it entered the gates of Busch. Seeing the World Series trophy being pulled by the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales, he said, "gave you chills."

"The whole thing is pretty phenomenal," Simpson said. "It's nice to see the players relaxed like this. We see them all year so intense and so focused. And just seeing my son react to all of it -- he's only 2."

One day, Simpson's son will tell everyone he knows that he went to the parade on Oct. 29, 2006, when the St. Louis Cardinals celebrated a world championship in the first year of the new Busch Stadium. Maybe there will be another Busch Stadium at that point. And maybe there will be more world championships by then.

That is the tradition of Cardinals baseball, and it was on full display on an unforgettable Sunday afternoon.