Week of celebration: Home openers, JRD

Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco among 9 cities to host home openers

Week of celebration: Home openers, JRD

There's a fitting exercise Major League Baseball fans should undertake to truly appreciate the week ahead, which moves the big league steamship into mid-April and further away from the Opening Day docks.

It's time to take a few moments to look back before we look forward again.

The first part of the next seven days in the game bring us nostalgia and bright, shiny reminders of success as last year's World Series champions and their American League runners-up are feted on their home fields for the first time in 2017.

And while the week will also be marked by some festive home openers, including the grand opening of a brand-new ballpark in Atlanta, the weekend brings more reflection in the form of the annual celebration of the life of one of the most important and transcendent figures not just in the sport but in American society.

First things first, or, more appropriately, rings first.

The World Series-champion Chicago Cubs will be partying on the North Side early in the week as they open the season at Wrigley Field against the Dodgers, and Wednesday will bring the bling. The long-awaited -- and we're talking absurdly long-awaited -- jewelry honoring the team's first title in 108 years will finally be placed upon the fingers of the players and team employees who earned it. And the Friendly Confines will be nicely decked out and ready for the fiesta.

The Cubs will receive their rings from 20 fans who were carefully chosen to be ring-bearers, with ages ranging from 13 to 90 and stories of personal Cubs fandom that tug at the heart. Last year's backup catcher and current "Dancing With the Stars" hero David Ross will come back to the Windy City to throw out the first pitch and lead the crowd in the seventh-inning stretch.

Ross dances on Week 3 of DWTS

All the while, the World Series atmosphere will once again permeate the old yard as the team grapples with the weight of lofty expectations set against what's sure to be frenzied fanfare.

"I've always talked about trying to play the same game on March 15, April 15, July 15," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's not a football game where you want to build them up into a lather before they go out there. I want them to have their normal routines."

Meanwhile, the same should go for the Cleveland Indians. Remember, the defending AL champs took the Cubs to the 10th inning of the seventh game of the World Series, and they did it without All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley and starters Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco.

All three are back for a club that already looks like a serious repeat contender, and they'll be doing some partying of their own this week. Tuesday is the home opener for the Tribe at Progressive Field, and the AL championship banner will be unfurled while the team gets its own rings. Cleveland sports greats Jim Thome, Jim Brown and Austin Carr will throw out first pitches before the Indians take on the White Sox, hoping that they win one more game than they did last October.

"It was the greatest experience I've ever had in baseball," Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said. "Why not go back?"

Must C: Lindor lifts Tribe

Fans will lift the lid on 2017 for the first time on Monday in Kansas City, at Yankee Stadium, in San Francisco, Seattle and at Wrigley, Tuesday in Miami, Cleveland and Toronto, and Friday at SunTrust Park, the sparkling new home of the Braves. SunTrust has had a couple test runs, a Yankees-Braves exhibition game and a college game Saturday which drew the second-largest crowd in NCAA history.

Yes, there's a lot going on in baseball this week. After those two special nights with the pennant winners, there will be quite a few solid rivalry matchups to watch out for.

The Cardinals and Nationals will finish off what could be a NL Championship Series preview in Washington on Wednesday night, while AL West hopefuls Houston and Seattle will complete the opening series at Safeco Field. The Orioles and Blue Jays will renew their AL East doings by starting a key four-game set north of the border on Thursday, and the upstart Rockies will try to keep their good vibes going against the Giants in San Francisco.

Paxton on Safeco Opening Day

On Saturday, all of baseball will go back, as always, and pay homage to Jackie Robinson on the anniversary of his ascension as MLB's first African-American player. This year marks the 70th anniversary of Jackie's debut for the Dodgers at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn on April 15, 1947.

Once again, per the tradition for Jackie Day, the epicenter of the annual remembrance will be Dodger Stadium, where Robinson's team will play the D-backs in a nighttime NL West rivalry game. And once again, throughout the league, all uniformed personnel will wear Jackie's retired No. 42 during each home game, a tradition started by MLB's previous commissioner, Bud Selig, and proudly carried on by its current head man, Rob Manfred.

"One, for the players, they would have to stop and think and realize that today's different," Manfred said of the thinking behind having everyone wear the number.

"Anywhere any of them were going to look on that field, same thing, 42. And maybe even more important, to the fans, right? It's a constant reminder that today's different and hopefully one of those reminders will get you thinking of something bigger."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.