It has long seemed like a somewhat ironic nickname for this small city, which only the most partisan (and parochial) Bostonians believe is actually the "Hub of the Universe."

But since hosting its first national political convention -- the Democrats' -- this summer, Boston has remained in the spotlight. Native son John F. Kerry is in the home stretch of his run for the White House. And now, more important to many local residents, the Red Sox open the World Series here Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

These days, at least, the title seems finally to fit.

"I don't ever remember a period when the sustained positive visibility and exposure for the teams and the entire region was as great as it is now," said Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. "But truth be told, the rest was just an appetizer to the World Series."

Baseball is not all that is on Boston's sporting agenda this weekend. The city will host the annual Head of the Charles Regatta -- the world's largest two-day rowing event -- which draws more than a quarter of a million spectators, mostly college-age, to the riverbanks.

And the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots play here Sunday against the similarly unbeaten New York Jets.

But foremost on New Englanders' hearts and minds will be the action at Fenway Park, the oldest and smallest stadium in Major League Baseball, where the Red Sox will play in their first World Series since 1986.

"This is the greatest town in America, and a week like this proves it," said Matt McDonald, 31, a Boston policeman. He said that after attending the Patriots game and watching the Red Sox on television, he is diverting a cross-country drive through St. Louis, to attend games 3 and 4 of the World Series.

"This is definitely one of the best weeks of my life," he said matter-of-factly.

There are also serious risks associated with all the hoopla and excitement, as Bostonians learned, tragically, this week.

Emerson College student Victoria Snelgrove, 21, died Thursday, hours after being struck in the eye by a "non-lethal" projectile fired by police trying to rein in celebrating fans after the Red Sox beat the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

The Boston Police Department has launched an investigation into the incident.

After considering a weekend ban on liquor sales near Fenway Park, Mayor Thomas M. Menino met with 25 bar and restaurant owners Friday. They agreed to reduce lines forming outside, limit their establishments' capacities and monitor customers' drinking.

"This is an exciting time, and we are eager for people to see what Boston has to offer," Menino spokesman Seth Gitell said. "But we want to make sure things stay under control off the field and that people act responsibly. It got out of hand the other night."

It was a quieter scene around Fenway Park on Friday. Fans bought souvenirs and gathered outside the stadium parking lot to get a glimpse as the ballplayers drove away after batting practice.

Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly issued a warning about counterfeit or illegally marked-up tickets, but people hoping for the chance to watch in person as the Red Sox attempt to end 86 years of World Series futility worked every available angle.

Phone lines were overwhelmed Thursday when the team made available a few thousand tickets, disrupting service for customers across the city.

Prices on the Internet auction site eBay approached $2,000 for some seats by Friday afternoon. While on the Web marketplace Craigslist, one fan posted this intriguing offer: "Trade your world series tickets for me."

"I don't really know what this entails," the description below continued. "Want me to baby sit your kids for 2 months? Want me to paint your house? Serve you coffee? Play the violin at your every whim? Do a dance? Paint a picture? Make a pizza? Pay you money? Tell me what to do."

Outside the ballpark, scalpers circled like vultures and a tent village sprang up for die-hards hoping to buy a small number of standing-room tickets made available on the day of every game.

First in line: David Millette, 48, of Key West, Fla., who grew up outside of Boston and moved here for the summer baseball season. He figured his chances of getting in are pretty good.

"Look, it hasn't happened since 1918, so this may be my only opportunity to see them win," he said, bundled in the sleeping bag in which he has spent the last five nights. "I'm not about to miss this."

With a larger budget and no desire to sleep under the autumn sky in temperatures quickly approaching the freezing mark, Glenn Baker, 30, of Montreal waited outside the box office and offered to buy tickets from fans picking them up.

He bought one Friday morning for less than $1,000 from a man who was going to the game alone because he had gotten into a fight with his wife. "Worked out well for me," Baker said.

A scheduling coincidence could make for another crazy week in Boston at the beginning of next month. If the Red Sox win the World Series in seven games, the celebratory parade reportedly could be held on Nov. 2 -- Election Day.

Even this city's loyal Democrats found their allegiances tested when asked which outcome is more important: a victory by the Red Sox or a win by Kerry?

"Definitely the Red Sox. Is that bad?" asked Elizabeth Coyte, 25, a Kerry supporter who brought her daughter Maddie, 4, to a souvenir shop Friday to buy a T-shirt.

Fans reach through a fence surrounding the Red Sox players' parking lot to offer their caps to be autographed. Boston Red Sox players take batting practice at Fenway Park. Boston plays the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, which it hasn't won since 1918.