NEW YORK -- Orlando Hernandez held his children in his arms, and a recovering Darryl Strawberry rode in style as cheering fans celebrated the New York Yankees' 24th world championship Friday with a parade up Manhattan's Canyon of Heroes.
With tons of confetti, shredded computer paper and even Chinese menus raining down, grinning players were greeted by giddy fans, standing as many as 40 deep, along the parade route.
"God's a Yankee fan too," read one sign. "Thanks for a heavenly season."
A flotilla of parade chariots carried the champions past hundreds of thousands of fans under a sunny fall sky. Police estimated the crowd at more than 3.5 million.
Hernandez waved and tipped his cap to fans as he rode in the pitcher's float, alternately holding his daughters, Steffi, 3, and Yahumara, 8, in his arms.
The girls, Hernandez's mother and ex-wife arrived from Cuba on a temporary visa and were reunited with the Yankees pitcher hours before the parade -- the first time in 10 months that he had seen them.
Adults and children skipped work and school to attend the parade, the youngsters getting the approval of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who kept his two children home and they rode on a float with Yankee infielders.
"How often are you going to have a celebration like this?" Giuliani said.
"If it wasn't my birthday we wouldn't have cut school," said Gila Leifer of Island Park, N.J., who was celebrating her 17th birthday with three friends. "But I'm a diehard Yankee fan."
Donna Jesposito from Staten Island also was playing hooky -- from work. She took the day off from her job at the Board of Education figuring she wouldn't get in too much trouble. "If the mayor says it's OK, it's OK," she said.
As the parade snaked up the canyon where returning war heroes, flying ace Charles Lindbergh and America's early astronauts have been honored, the squeals and cheers of the crowd echoed off skyscraper walls.
Lawyer Mary Jane Delaney tried to get to a business meeting at the World Trade Center but was blocked by the crowd. Unable to cross the street, the San Franciscan found herself swept up in Yankees fever.
"This is special," she said. "I'm enjoying myself."
Girls screamed marriage proposals to Yankees Derek Jeter and Joe Girardi and men waved brooms of all sizes and shapes, symbolizing the Yankees four-game sweep of the San Diego Padres in the World Series.
Mike Esposito of Staten Island, however, stood out with a different kind of prop: a giant 3-foot long fork. Asked its relevance, Esposito roared to the crowd's delight: "Stick it in the Padres. They're done!"
But the crowd saved its most enthusiastic response for Strawberry, who led the parade in style: in a classic, red Cadillac.
Strawberry, recovering from colon cancer surgery, waved and smiled at the crowd but left as soon as the parade ended. He skipped the City Hall ceremony, where Giuliani praised the Yankees slugger.
"For the comeback he's made as a baseball player and the comeback he's making in life, he has earned the respect of all New Yorkers," Giuliani said before giving each player a key to the city.
The mayor, decked in Yankees finery, hailed the World Series champions saying: "When the history of baseball is written, this will be the greatest team in the history of baseball. They showed us character. They showed us dedication. They showed us friendship."
The day's events included a prayer for Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio, who is in a Florida hospital with pneumonia.
"Thanks for our day in the sun," pitcher David Cone said.
"After '96, I didn't think it could get any better," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "This is dynamite."
And then, to the team that won a record-breaking 125 games this year, he added, "These guys are the best guys who ever played the game."
Speaking in Spanish, Hernandez told the crowd, "I love you, New York," and Bernie Williams gave fans words of hope.
Williams, who is now a free agent, told the fans: "I don't know what's going to happen in the future but I've got great memories here."
As the crowd shouted its disapproval, Williams added: "I think I'll get a chance to stay, but ..." He motioned to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who was sitting nearby and added, "You've got to talk to this guy right here."
The crowd was largely well-behaved but eight felony arrests were made on the outskirts of the parade. Among the arrested were three adults and three teen-agers charged with vandalizing four FBI cars just north of City Hall.
Two others were arrested for damaging privately owned cars. It was not immediately known what a ninth misdemeanor arrest was for.
In addition, 17 people were issued summonses for disorderly conduct and 181 peddler summonses were given to people selling items like T-shirts illegally.
Forty-one parade-goers sustained minor injuries and most were treated at the scene. Some confetti caught fire when people threw cigarette butts to the ground, according to the sanitation department. Those fires were quickly extinguished.