Many big dates on tap for upcoming season

Many big dates on tap for upcoming season

Many big dates on tap for upcoming season
Here is a month-by-month look at the 2011 Major League Baseball regular season, which arrives Thursday with flyovers, player introductions, parades, aces, sluggers, sellout crowds, 0-0 standings, chilly climes and World Series hope:

March/April
Six openers are scheduled for Thursday, including the most traditional of them all, a day game in Cincinnati. The Findlay Market Opening Day Parade will rumble through town, followed by a 2:10 p.m. ET start against Milwaukee. For the first time since 1996, that Reds opener will feature a Cincinnati team fresh off a postseason and expecting more.

The Cardinals will be at San Francisco on April 9, when the home team will get its long-awaited World Series rings. The first 20,000 fans get something, too: a commemorative ring key chain. For the game, players will wear one-time-only uniforms with "Giants" spelled out in gold-colored lettering.

On April 15, it will be all about the No. 42. Jackie Robinson Day will shine the annual light on the player who broke MLB's color barrier on that day in 1947 at Ebbets Field. The All-Star ballot will be launched later in the month, and thus will return a fan tradition. The novelty of big names in new places is over, and by this point, you are locked into meaningful standings and stats, making fantasy moves, watching the disabled lists and rooting for the home team.

May
The second Sunday is Mother's Day, so circle the May 8 as a pink-letter date on your calendar. MLB and Susan G. Komen for the Cure will again team up to raise awareness and funds to help end breast cancer. Look for those bright pink bats as everyone comes together to fight a common cause.

The Civil Rights Game continues to grow as a jewel event, and this year, it moves to Atlanta, with the Phillies and Braves taking part in the May 15 main event. Other highlights that week will include a Thursday red-carpet event honoring Hank Aaron, and the annual MLB Beacon Awards Banquet, with awards going to Ernie Banks, Morgan Freeman and Carlos Santana.

The last time the Cubs played the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Babe Ruth was in left field, Carl Mays was on the mound and Les Mann grounded out to second. Boston won the 1918 World Series -- and until the Red Sox reversed the curse in 2004, that was it for either team as far as titles. Now at last they meet again in Boston, for a May 20-22 Interleague series. It is arguably the most anticipated of any series on the 2011 MLB schedule. An omen, Cubs fans?

The Astros open Interleague Play against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on May 20-22. Toronto is the only current Major League city in which the Astros have not played. The 2011 Interleague rotation of primary division matchups is: AL East vs. NL Central, AL Central vs. NL West and AL West vs. NL East.

June
The month opens with a Don Mattingly Bobblehead Night at Dodger Stadium, and by then, we'll have a good idea how Donnie Baseball is doing as a big league manager. On the relaunched homepage for your favorite team's site, just scroll down to "Next Homestand" on the right side and click "Promotions" to see what other cool events like that are coming up.

The First-Year Player Draft is scheduled for June 6-8, with the first round live on MLB Network and MLB.com. Who knows, this could be roughly the time that the top overall pick in last year's Draft, Bryce Harper, is making his presence felt for the parent Nationals.

Derek Jeter had 179 hits last season, so if you project roughly 30 hits a month in 2011, then career hit No. 3,000 likely will occur in the middle of this month. Maybe it will be during a 10-game homestand from June 7-16. Or maybe it will happen during an Interleague Play stretch from June 17-19 at Wrigley Field or June 20-22 in Cincinnati. The Yankees play 16 of 22 games at home after the first four games of the month, so you can see why Yankee Stadium tickets are likely to be especially hard to find in June.

June 28-30 will mark a first in Cardinals history, as they play the Orioles in Baltimore. The Orioles moved to Baltimore in 1954, but before that, they were long known as the St. Louis Browns. So technically, it's the first time the Cardinals have ever gone to another city to play that franchise, which they beat in the 1944 Cards-Browns World Series.

July
Keep an eye on the Twins' homestand from June 27-July 6. It is already compelling enough with Interleague series against the Dodgers and Brewers along with three dates against Tampa Bay, and now you can add a projected 600th home run for Jim Thome in that time frame based on his average of four homers a month last year. He'll begin the season needing 11 to reach the number.

Having missed the opportunity last year due to the G-20 Summit, Toronto will get a second chance at welcoming back longtime Blue Jays starter Roy Halladay. The Phillies will play in Toronto, barring another wacky sequence of events, over Canada Day weekend (July 1-3).

The 82nd All-Star Game is set for July 12 at Chase Field in Arizona, the third in a four-year run of Midsummer Classics west of the Mississippi (Cardinals in 2009, Angels in '10 and Royals in '12). On July 13, catch your breath -- it's the annual day that sports forgot.

On the 16th, pay homage to Joe DiMaggio. Seventy years earlier to the day, the Yankee Clipper went 3-for-4 and extended his hitting streak to 56 games.

Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven and Pat Gillick take the stage at the Hall of Fame Induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 24.

The non-waiver Trade Deadline is 4 p.m. ET on the 31st. Those final days and hours will be a buzz storm, with clubs trying to help themselves for the tough pennant stretch and others trying to beef up their organizations amid trying times.

August
If you're a Nationals fan, August means one thing: Stephen Strasburg could be back. If his recovery from Tommy John surgery stays on course, this is the month viewed as likeliest.

By this point, the pennant races will be shaping up. Will Oakland be a team on the rise as many are now predicting? Will Tampa Bay be able to withstand its offseason exodus and make another run? It's hard to say now, but we do know that it's A's at Rays on Aug. 6, followed by a Goo Goo Dolls concert free to fans with a game ticket.

Postseason eligibility lists are established in the final hour of this month. What remains is finding out which of those eligible players actually will appear in the playoffs.

September
The first day of this month means callups, as active rosters expand from 25 to 40. Which of the phenoms we have been watching in Spring Training will be in focus at this point?

The second day of the month is another likely milestone for Red Sox Nation. That is a series opener against the Rangers at Fenway Park, and unless the Red Sox abjectly fail to live up to their preseason billing or fans get tired of "Muddy Water," that should make it 700 straight sellouts at home. The streak stands at 631 entering this season, the longest in Major League history. Boston is one season away from possibly surpassing the longest such streak in American pro sports history: 744 by the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers from 1977-95.

The 9/11 Day of Remembrance will be recognized at all home ballparks, and on this particular date, it will have even more significance as the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

The last regular-season homestand at Busch Stadium is scheduled for Sept. 20-25. If there is no news by then on the Albert Pujols contract front, then Cardinals fans will want to take a good, long look at every at-bat by No. 5 against the Mets and Cubs. He will be eligible for free agency after the season, and the Redbirds will have their hands full in getting back into the postseason and then re-signing their superstar first baseman.

The 28th is the official closing of the regular season. It will end the way it always does, with a dramatic sprint amid wild scenarios -- perhaps resulting in tiebreaker scheduling.

October
The 107th World Series will stay inside the month of October by design, as everything has been bumped up earlier on the calendar. The four Division Series and the National League Championship Series will be broadcast by TBS, and FOX will handle the American League Championship Series and the Fall Classic.

Getting there is the fun part. Let's play 162.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.