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YANKEES LEAD LINEUP OF BALLPARK PROJECTS IN THE WORKS

The ballpark building boom is far from over even though no new stadiums opened this season (we're not counting Washington's ancient but refurbished RFK) and the only one scheduled for 2006 is new Busch in St. Louis. The Nationals will be in a new one by 2008 or 2009 while the Yankees, Twins, Mets, Marlins and A's all have hopes they might be able to say the same by the end of this decade.

The Yankees made the biggest splash of the season so far with last week's announcement they're looking at funding an $800 million replacement for Yankee Stadium on an adjacent tract of land in the Bronx. Several other cities have completed or are in the process of making major renovations of their existing facilities.

Here's a rundown of what's up on the construction scene:

Yankees: Where he once coveted Manhattan and made threats about New Jersey, George Steinbrenner is now committed to the Bronx. The team hopes to break ground in 2006 on a 51,000-seat facility that would include 60 suites and much larger concourses than the current facility that dates to 1923 and reopened in 1976 after a massive two-year renovation. The stadium is expected to mimic current field dimensions and have an exterior look more akin to the old park, including a re-creation of the classic copper facade that encircled it until the renovation.

Boston: The Red Sox added seats above Fenway Park's famed Green Monster in 2003, put seats on the right field roof in 2004 and rebuilt the playing field this season. Next year, they have more big plans. The club is removing the glass from the .406 Club behind home plate and turning the 15-row enclosure into an 800-seat open-air club section. It's also adding five more rows of seats on the roof along the baselines as it gets the capacity to more than 37,000. There are further plans to push that in the neighborhood of 39,000 in future years.

Toronto: The Blue Jays spent $12 million trying to spruce up the newly named Rogers Centre. The new Field Turf is a big improvement over the old Astroturf although Red Sox players complained during the season's first series that it was a bit slippery. There have also been brightness issues with the new out-of-town scoreboards on the outfield fence (the baseball gets lost in the light green background) and Boston's Johnny Damon got a six-stitch cut on his elbow from hitting a bolt on the board. The Jumbotron in center field has been upgraded and ribbon boards show information and advertising on the facades of the decks.

St. Louis: This corner got a look at the new Busch during the Final Four and it's coming along fine for next April's opening. The current stadium, opened in 1966, is enclosed and prevents a view of downtown and the Gateway Arch. The new one will seat about 46,000 and allow the landmark to be seen in the outfield. The construction schedule will be tight though. The outfield of old Busch will be torn down first immediately after the season so work can be completed on the new stadium. Right now, there's no way to do any work on outfield sections because it's so close to the old facility.

Washington: Plans are moving forward for the Nationals' $440 million park in the city's Anacostia section south of the U.S. Capitol. The projected opening is 2008 and it can't happen soon enough. During the team's opening homestand, the Diamondbacks didn't take ground balls during pregame infield practice because there were so many bad hops and a fan was critically injured from a postgame fall from the upper deck into the lower deck. City officials want the new park to have a "signature" look unique to D.C. rather than just be another in the recent retro phase of construction.

Los Angeles: The Dodgers unveiled $20 million in improvements to 43-year-old Dodger Stadium during their home opener and many of them have been panned by fans. Lots of foul territory has been replaced by premium seats, pushing longtime fans in the first row to what's now the 12th row and hopelessly out of their accustomed spots in autograph range. The outfield wall murals, featuring Los Angeles greats on a Dodger Blue background, have been replaced by ads on a dark navy background. Shame on new owner Frank McCourt. That was one of the nicest features of the stadium. Forget the team's history and make a buck? A sad way to do business for a once-proud franchise.

Chicago: While the White Sox took out the top eight rows -- about 6,600 seats -- last year at U.S. Cellular Field, the Cubs are hoping to add up to six rows of bleachers as well as a signature office building and an open-air parkway connecting it to the ballpark. The five-story building would include a massive souvenir shop, a restaurant and a parking deck.

Around the horn

The Marlins can get this kind of lights-out starting pitching all season. Keep in mind that Dontrelle Willis was just a rookie during the 2003 World Series and A.J. Burnett was injured and didn't play. Only Josh Beckett, the Series MVP, had a major role in the conquest of the Yankees. Nothing about the Marlins' start changes this corner's view that they'll see the Fall Classic for the second time in three years come October.

Amazing box score of the season thus far has to go to last Saturday's 2-1 White Sox win over the Mariners -- which took just 1 hour, 39 minutes to complete. Mark Buerhle pitched a three-hitter with 12 strikeouts while Seattle's Ryan Franklin tossed a four-hitter. It was Chicago's fastest game since needing only 1:35 to play at Detroit on May 31, 1975.

Talk about hard luck. Cleveland's Jake Westbrook is 0-4 with a 3.81 ERA -- and the Indians have scored just four runs in his starts. He's thrown two complete games and opponents are batting just .200 against him.

It took Phillies first baseman Jim Thome 54 at-bats before he collected his first homer of the season, Wednesday against the Rockies.

Roger Clemens' numbers from his first four starts for the Astros: An 0.32 ERA, 32 strikeouts and six walks in 28 innings. And he's 42 years old! But he's only 1-0 and that shows how far the Astros' offense has fallen this year without Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman.

I'm not ready to buy into the Dodgers' fast start just yet. Their infield defense is going to be a season-long question mark and a sinkerballer like Derek Lowe relies on plays being made behind him. Look how much better Lowe fared last year when the Red Sox traded for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz to shore up the infield.

Is Juan Gonzalez ever going to play for the Indians? That's in serious doubt now as he's yet to start playing in games at extended spring training after tweaking his hamstring yet again late last month the day after he was named Cleveland's starting right fielder. The Tribe should just cut its losses and forget about this over-the-hill slugger who just can't stay healthy but General Manager Mark Shapiro is understandably holding out hope for Gonzalez with his team's offense still mired in an unexpected funk.

Look for the Tribe to give Gonzalez a chance sometime in May with either the Buffalo Bisons or Double-A Akron to see if he can get in the lineup on an everyday basis.

The World Series trophy was in McCoy Stadium last Sunday for the Bisons' game at Pawtucket and fans began lining up to take pictures with it at 8 a.m. -- three hours before its unveiling and five hours before the first pitch of the game. To keep the line moving, the PawSox hired a professional photographer and have made the pictures available for free downloads on the team's Web site at www.pawsox.com.
e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com