SAN FRANCISCO -- Thousands of baseball fans flocked downtown Wednesday to toast the San Francisco Giants' World Series championship and see their hometown heroes take a victory lap in a ticker-tape parade reminiscent of the one held when the team moved west from New York 52 years ago.
"This is Christmas, New Year's and your first-born all rolled into one," said Steve Williams, 51, an usher at AT&T Park, as he gathered with Giants employees at the start of the parade in the financial district. "I'm on cloud nine."
Fans crowded the sidewalks and flooded Civic Center to salute a team of self-described misfits and castoffs. The die-hards showed up before dawn to stake out spots ahead of the festivity. Many skipped work and pulled their children out of school so they could catch what they said was a once-in-a-lifetime celebration.
"I want to see all the hometown heroes and share the smiles of all the fans who've been waiting their entire lives for this," said Teddy Hutcherson, 31.
Under a sunny sky, confetti rained on team members and civic dignitaries as they rode down the parade route in convertibles and cable cars on wheels. Street lamps were festooned with orange and black -- the team's colors. Large banners proclaimed the Giants as this year's World Series champions, as if the crowd needed to be reminded the team had won baseball's highest honor.
City officials did not have a specific estimate of the crowd size. But Tony Winnicker, spokesman for mayor Gavin Newsom, said officials "believe it is the largest parade and civic event turnout in the city's history."
Marching bands, floats and costumed mascots added to the street party atmosphere as the parade moved from the financial district and then down Market Street to the Civic Center where Newsom presented the team a key to the city.
"I've never seen anything like this is my life," center fielder Andres Torres said as he greeted fans behind a barricade. "The parade has been amazing."
Newsom was giddy as he described growing up a "fanatical Giants fan" and dreaming about playing for the team one day.
"I thought I'd see [a World Series championship] in my lifetime but never thought I'd see it as mayor," Newsom said. "It's incomprehensible that this happened."
He swept aside talk of politics when asked about his victory in the state's lieutenant governor's race on Tuesday.
"Nobody here cares about that, this puts it all in perspective," he said.
Fans of Brian Wilson, the quirky reliever whose facial hair has become a local obsession, paid tribute to him by painting beards on their faces and wearing T-shirts that read "Fear the Beard." He stoked the crowd by jumping up and down and giving people high-fives.
Slugger Aubrey Huff, who threatened to unveil his lucky red thong at the parade, made good on his words by waving it at fans. They roared with deafening approval. He later pulled out the "rally thong" while addressing raucous fans at Civic Center.
Fans climbed onto trees and streetlights to get a better view of the stage, the police unable to reach most of them over the crush of bodies. The scent of marijuana wafted in the air even though a ballot measure aimed at legalizing pot was defeated on Election Day.
Wilson acknowledged the odor when he joked about having a heart attack.
"I'm not sure where it's coming from, maybe from the electricity of the crowd or maybe from the smell of Prop 19," he said, referring to the failed proposition.
Giants greats Willie Mays and Willie McCovey were on hand for the ceremony, as was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Former Journey singer Steve Perry, a Giants devotee whose hit song "Don't Stop Believin'" has become the team's anthem, waved from the stand as the song blared from speakers and the crowd sang along.
It was the same spot beneath City Hall's orange-lit dome where fans gathered Monday night to watch an outdoor big screen television that captured the team's Game 5 win over the Texas Rangers. The Giants finally achieved World Series domination that eluded the team in 1962, 1989 and 2002.
Giants president Larry Baer captured the fans' long anticipation for a victory after decades of game attendance at Candlestick Park and at the new home stadium, AT&T Park. "The triumph of this team allows us to flash back and connect to our past, to experience the beauty of our memories and shared experiences with unbridled joy," Baer said.
"This day is a blessed reminder of a dream fulfilled for all of us," he said.