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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

No more sunny place to be than Fenway

I'm sitting in the press box atop Fenway Park and the shadows are getting long as organ music plays and hundreds of New England families file in along the right-field warning track so that their children can run the bases. It's 5:25 on a (finally) splendid spring Sunday afternoon and the world champion Red Sox have just finished their three-game beat-down of the woeful Devil Rays.

Not only that, the Yankees lost again and that nifty new AL East scoreboard panel on the Green Monster shows New York tied with Tampa at 4-8, sharing last place in the division. George Steinbrenner is issuing statements. Sweet.

So it's official. Fenway Park is Diamond Disney. The lines are long, the prices steep, and it is the happiest place on Earth. These are Hub Hardball's good old days, and the ancient yard on Yawkey Way is baseball's Magic Kingdom.

There'll be another game this morning -- Fenway's annual Patriots Day breakfast club. It's one of those only-in-Boston events, like the L Street Brownies swimming on New Year's Day and the "1812 Overture" capping the Pops on the Esplanade on the Fourth of July.

Is anyone complaining? Of course not. Even David Wells says he doesn't mind the early start.

"I'll probably get there at 10:59," joked Boomer, a night crawler who has been known to leave wake-up calls later than today's scheduled first pitch.

Curt Schilling, another famously nocturnal baseball creature, will make his second start of the 2005 season. Schilling usually leaves for the ballpark five hours before the first pitch, which would put him on the road from Medfield at approximately 6 a.m. Early in his career, Schilling had difficulty in day games because he hadn't figured out how to adjust his body clock.

"I could do without the 11 a.m. start time," he said. "But I've been preparing for this for the last four days."

The early start probably took Schilling away from his little website friends late last night, but everyone's got to make sacrifices.

It's going to be a special day for the Schillings because Curt's wife, Shonda, will run the marathon for the SHADE Foundation.

Since they've been married, Shonda's never missed one of Curt's home starts, but today she goes the distance to bring attention to melanoma prevention and the fight to stamp out ALS. Mike Timlin's wife, Dawn, also is running from Hopkinton to Boston for the Angel (ALS) Fund. Timlin, who was the winning pitcher when the Sox beat the Yankees on Patriots Day last year, said he plans to be at the finish line with Schilling when their wives come down Boylston Street.

Count Terry Francona as one who enjoys Marathon Monday at Fenway.

"I think it's a great day," said the Sox manager. "My last professional at-bat was in one of these games. I hit a sinking quail that the center fielder shoe-stringed for a catch. If he let it drop, I probably wouldn't have gotten released a couple days later. That was my last at-bat in the big leagues."

That was in 1990 and the Brewers beat the Red Sox, 18-0. A long time ago. That was before the World Series trophy tour, before Wally the Green Monster, before seats atop the left field wall, before "Sweet Caroline" in the eighth inning, before Cowboy Up, Why Not Us, and Idiots Across America. It was before Springsteen, Buffett, and the Stones played Fenway. It was when folks thought the Sox were jinxed. It was before the birth of a Nation.

The New York Times Co., which owns Daddy Globe, has $75 million invested in the Red Sox and there are Times employees with their very own championship rings, so there's inevitable appearance of conflict in our assessment of these Hakuna Matata Days at Fenway. But anyone who was at the Tampa Bay series is bound to agree that Red Sox home games have become festivals of cheer and celebration. The anger and agony of seasons past is gone.

Thursday night's fan-Sheffield fracas was the aberration in this first week of the long-awaited Red Sox championship defense. Before Chris House's unfortunate swipe at Sheffield, Sox fans were downright civil to the Yankees and the erstwhile Bombers demonstrated considerable class in their first two games in Boston. When the Yankees left town, the nonsense went with them.

"It feels more like just regular baseball," said Francona. "I understand why. There were a lot of things going on, but we got down to playing baseball and fortunately we played pretty good baseball."

There. No more fear and loathing in the Nation. In 2005, Red Sox fans are happy when they get to the ballpark, and on most days and nights they are happy when they leave. It'll be the same today when the Blue Jays try to hit Schilling before noon.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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