When to leave sacred ground

It's been just over a decade since baseball's ballpark building boom began with the creation of Camden Yards.

Since then, another 11 ballparks have been constructed; two more -- in San Diego and Philadelphia -- will open in April.

From west (San Francisco) to east (Baltimore), north (Milwaukee) to south (Houston), new playgrounds are seemingly everywhere. Indeed, with the opening of the new stadia for the Phillies and the Padres, 19 teams will open the 2004 season with ballparks which opened after 1989, a mere 15 years ago.

Eight American League teams play in ballparks built after 1989. Another -- Anaheim -- underwent an extreme makeover a few seasons back and two more -- Minnesota and Oakland -- are in perpetual search of funding.

The building boom is even more pronounced in the National League where 11 teams are in parks built since 1990. The Cardinals recently finalized plans for a new downtown stadium, and the Expos, presumably, will be playing in a new facility when they finally move. The Mets have lobbied for a new ballpark, and gone so far as to draw up plans for a modern-day Ebbets Field.

But, tellingly, four franchises remain anchored to older homes -- the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers, content to stay in This Old Ballpark.

A closer look at the four who, for a variety of reasons, haven't cashed in on the construction boom.

In the late 1990s, with the Yankees in the midst of a run which saw them win four championships in the span of five seasons, owner George Steinbrenner routinely campaigned for a new ballpark.

Steinbrenner claimed that New Yorkers didn't want to come to the Bronx, citing traffic, parking and crime concerns. But someone forgot to tell the fans; in the last three seasons, the Yankees have routinely drawn three million or more fans.

The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York changed the political climate for public funding of ballparks. It was hard for Steinbrenner to demand assistance when the city's economy and infrastructure needed attention.

Now, however, the building boom seems to have begun again. The NFL's Jets are planning a stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, which could double as an Olympic facility in New York's bid for the 2012 games.

Last week, the New Jersey Nets were sold to a developer who wants to move them to Brooklyn and house them in a state-of-the-art arena.

How long before Steinbrenner gets in a line for funding of his own? While Steinbrenner has had dalliances with the Meadowlands Sports Authority in New Jersey, few believe the Yankees would ever leave the city limits.

Meanwhile, while the House That Ruth Built (refurbished in the mid-1970s) may lack the modern amenities -- luxury boxes are virtually non-existent -- the Yankees continue to draw and the revenue flows from the club's TV and radio rights are unparalleled. Yankee Stadium is one of the few ballparks which sells itself, and the history therein is known to even the most casual follower of the game.

Red Sox
Just prior to putting the club on the auction block in October of 2000, former Red Sox owner John Harrington unveiled a model for a new Fenway Park, to be built directly across the street from the present one.

It had a replica of the Green Monster, wider concourses and, of course, more seating. What it didn't have was funding, or for that matter, land.

There was talk of taking some land by eminent domain and receiving some infrastructure and tax relief from the city and state, but nothing materialized.

When the franchise was sold to John Henry and Co., talk flatlined. While public funding of arenas and ballparks has been commonplace elsewhere, owners seeking taxpayer handouts in Massachusetts have been left frustrated.

Both the Fleet Center -- owned by the NHL's Bruins and joined by the NBA's Celtics as a tenant -- and Gillette Stadium -- home of the NFL's Patriots -- were largely privately financed.

That's likely to be the case with a new Fenway, too -- if one is ever built. Henry and Co. plunked down $700 million for the team and the ballpark. Estimates have pegged the pricetag for a new Fenway at another $500 million. Henry is wealthy, but probably not that wealthy.

The Sox are hamstrung by the game's smallest seating capacity (officially: 33,933), but make up for it with the most expensive tickets in either league. For now, the formula works -- the Sox have set attendance records in each of the last five seasons and play to more than 99 percent capacity.

Fenway is still a destination -- for New Englanders in outlying areas, making an annual pilgrimage to Boston, and for tourists intent on seeing baseball's oldest and coziest ballpark.

At some point, it seems inevitable that the Sox will need a new home. As beloved as Fenway is, there's no significant resistance to replacing it, so long as it's done properly.

Funding it is another matter.

If Fenway is the American League's quaint crown jewel of ballparks, then Wrigley Field is its NL counterpart.

With a slightly bigger seating capacity, Wrigley can house another five thousand or so fans per game more than Fenway, and the Tribune Company has signaled little desire for a new ballpark.

More to the point, there's been little outcry for one. To the contrary, of the four oldest ballparks, Wrigley has by far the strongest sentimental backing. Win or lose, Chicagoans love the idea of sitting in the sun and watching the Cubbies while sipping a beer or four.

The surrounding neighborhood is part of the Wrigley experience, making Wrigley a destination point for locals and visitors alike.

Luxury boxes? Additional amenities? That's for others.

Maybe a little extra foul ground down the left-field line? That's another story.

It's hard to believe that Dodger Stadium, the cleanest and perhaps most picturesque ballpark of them all, is more than 40 years old. Of course, in southern California, that makes it a virtual relic.

Prospective owner Frank McCourt, a developer from Boston, is said to have plans to build an NFL stadium adjacent to Dodger Stadium to attract an expansion franchise.

The land which McCourt could inherit with the purchase of the team -- the Dodgers are one of a mere handful of clubs to play in their own ballpark -- is invaluable, given its location.

It's logical to assume that, while he's developing an NFL site, he might want to build a new Dodger Stadium while he's at it, or at the very least, give it a renovation similar to the one in Anaheim 30 or so miles to the south.

But, already said to be short on equity, McCourt will need additional investors to tackle such a project.

Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.