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If you rebuild it, they will come

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They came with beach chairs, folding chairs and chaise lounges. By 9 a.m. Sunday, they had happily traded away their assorted furniture, abandoned in heaps outside Gate E at Shea Stadium, for a different kind of seat: one with a bird’s-eye view of the refurbished New York Mets.

Fans inspired by the Mets’ offseason acquisitions of Roberto Alomar, Roger Cedeno and Mo Vaughn started lining up at Shea Stadium as early as 5:30 a.m. Saturday, nearly 28 hours before tickets for the 2002 season went on sale.

At 9 a.m. Sunday a crowd of thousands erupted with a cheer as the line, which snaked around the stadium to the back of the parking lot, began to move.

By the end of the day more than 130,000 tickets — the most the Mets have ever sold in the first day of sales — had been snatched up by fans at the stadium, calling on the telephone and ordering over the Internet.

Tickets to opening day against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Yankees series June 14-16, sold out, and co-owner Fred Wilpon predicted attendance would top 3 million for the season.

Linda, of Middle Village, arrived in line with two friends at 4 a.m. in hopes of buying tickets to Opening Day, the subway series and a few promotion dates. She said they passed the time “complaining about standing too long, singing songs, eating muffins and picking on Yankee fans.”

Fans like Nick Laveglia of Middle Village turned the line into an all-night tailgate party. “We ran to White Castle and bought a 30-pack of hamburgers,” he said. Others feasted on sandwiches and fried chicken, and when the ticket windows opened, the Mets handed out free coffee and doughnuts.

Throughout the crowd, optimism and excitement overcame the long wait. Leveglia said there was “a lot of baseball talk” as night gave way to morning.

“The infield is going to be incredible, he said,” citing the double-play combination of Alomar and Rey Ordonez.

Alex Serrata and Ralph Ramos of Manhattan lined up at 5 a.m. chatting excitedly about the speed that Alomar and Cedeno will add to the Mets lineup.

Milton Walters, known to Mets fans as “Sign Man,” was at the stadium wearing his No. 53 Mets jersey even though he has season tickets.

“I’m here for support,” he said, holding up a homemade sign that offered his list of the top 10 reasons the Mets will win the World Series.

Chris Ilardi, of Bayside, who arrived at 3 a.m., agreed with Walters’ assessment. “We’re going to win this year,” he said confidently.

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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