World Series MVP Jose Rijo had a simple message for the thousands of rain-soaked fans who jammed Fountain Square to pay tribute to the Cincinnati Reds.

"I love you all," Rijo, who won two of the four games in the Reds' sweep of the Oakland Athletics, told the crowd Monday.Rob Dibble, who traded taunts with Oakland's Dave Stewart after Game 4, took the opportunity to needle the A's. "We are the best," Dibble said. The crowd roared.

Despite a steady rain, police estimated that 12,000 to 15,000 were at Fountain Square to welcome the Reds, who arrived in open convertibles. More people lined the five-block parade route.

"I don't care how wet it is, it's a beautiful day," said Edith Staub, who had neither umbrella nor slicker. "It's exciting. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

Chris Neeley, another of the drenched faithful, said this celebration seemed bigger than the last time the Reds won the World Series - twice in the mid-1970s. "I was here in '75 and '76, and I didn't see anything like this," Neeley said. "This is wild."

Brenda Latscha, who watched from under the cover of an elevated skywalk, agreed that the crowd seemed bigger. "I think the fact that they took it in four games really brought the crowd out," she said.

Bill Cunningham, a talk show host on WLW Radio, the Reds' flagship station, had the crowd whipped up before the players arrived. "I'd rather be in Cincinnati and wet than be in Oakland and be a chump," Cunningham said as fans waved brooms, a reference to the Reds' four-game sweep.

School-age children skipped classes - as they do on Opening Day in Cincinnati - and downtown office workers took extended lunch breaks.

Owner Marge Schott thanked them all. "It's been five long years for all of us," she said, referring to the years she has controlled the Reds. "We won this for the fans. I thank you for hanging in there with us."

Lou Piniella, the first manager to sweep a World Series in his first year with a team, attributed the championship to "hard work, dedication and a will to win.

"I'm really proud of our team, proud of our fans and proud of the city," Piniella said. "They played their hearts out, and they're world champions."

Piniella said he was sorry that Eric Davis could not attend the rally. Davis, who injured his kidney making a diving attempt at a catch in Game 4, is hospitalized in Oakland but is not expected to need surgery.