Forget the field-level box seats. The hottest tickets to Cardinals games are in the nose-bleed seats in left field.

"That's where Mark has a tendency to hit, especially during batting practice," said Kevin Wade, director of ticket sales for the Cardinals.In his assault on the home run record, Mark McGwire was at 45 entering Friday night's game against the Chicago Cubs. Only two of his homers have gone to right field.

And that makes the Terrace Reserved sections 383 and 385 the choice seats at Busch Stadium. Only a handful of the $11 seats in those sections remain for the rest of the season.

Equally popular are the lower left-field bleacher seats. It's been weeks since any of those seats remained.

The home run fever heightens with the Cubs and Sammy Sosa in town. Sosa trails McGwire by two homers in the race to reach Roger Maris' mark of 61.

"It's going to be something to have the two of them in the same ballpark," Wade said.

McGwire is on pace to hit No. 62 on Sept. 16, a home game against Pittsburgh. The Cardinals then play at Milwaukee on Sept. 18 for three games, and the Brewers are ready.

They have turned their first-come, first-served bleachers into reserved seating for McGwire's visit. The left-field seats sold out for the series last week, as well as the one in September.

"A lot of these owners should be really happy," McGwire said. "They're making a lot of money. It's definitely great for the game, but let's realize that I'm just one person who plays this game. There are a lot of other great guys that are hitting home runs."

True, but consider this: The Cardinals were only 81/2 games out of first place in the NL Central this time last year. They're now 15 games behind Houston and have been below .500 most of the season. Yet attendance is up more than 400,000.

The owners are not the only ones to benefit. McGwire's contract calls for him to receive $1 for every ticket sold over 2.8 million.

"We'll have to wait until the end of the season, but right now it looks like he'll be looking at a $250,000 bonus or somewhere around there," team spokesman Brad Hianje said.

Like the Brewers, the Florida Marlins are gearing for McGwire's show. The Marlins have been averaging about 20,900 at home. But they already have opened four sections in the club and upper deck areas in left field for McGwire this month. That increases capacity to about 45,000.

"Tickets are selling very well," said Jim Ross, vice president for sales and marketing for the Marlins.

Even at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati, one of the few ballparks where McGwire has yet to homer, outfield seats for the Cardinals' Sept. 9-10 visit are selling briskly.

"Fans usually want to be close to home, but they seem to be interested in getting to an area where a home run ball might land," Reds spokesman Charles Henderson said.

Many teams have no limit on the number of tickets a person can buy. That means the closer McGwire gets to Maris' record, the more fans - as well as scalpers and collectors - will begin scooping up tickets.

It's a gamble that could pay off. Tickets, particularly ones that haven't been torn by a gate attendant, could fetch a nice fee.

"He's got to be closer before people are going to start buying blocks of 100 tickets," said Rich Klein, price guide analyst for Becketts in Dallas. "But you may want to protect yourself and buy a couple of tickets for the late games."