An early opener, a neat matchup at Fenway Park and the politically charged All-Star game highlight the 2011 major league season. A few dates to mark on the schedule:
• San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers, March 31: Baseball opens on a Thursday for the first time since 1976, capped by the World Series champions traveling to Chavez Ravine for Don Mattingly’s first game as Dodgers manager. The Giants won nine of their last 12 games against L.A. last season on the way to their first N.L. West title since 2003.
• Boston Red Sox at Texas Rangers, April 1: The refurbished Red Sox start their season at the home of the A.L. champions. Texas had a sparkling 54-35 record at Rangers Ballpark in 2010, counting the playoffs.
• Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox, May 3: The A.L. Central rivals meet for the first time in the opener of a two-game set. Ozzie Guillen’s White Sox have high hopes after adding slugger Adam Dunn to the lineup in the offseason, but the Twins have captured two consecutive division titles.
• Chicago Cubs at Boston Red Sox, May 20: The Cubs make their first visit to Fenway Park since the 1918 World Series.
• Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees, June 7: The biggest milestone of the season could go to Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who needs just 74 hits to reach 3,000. New York begins a 10-game homestand with this matchup against Boston, and surely the All-Star shortstop would love to reach the landmark number in front of a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd already jazzed up for the visit from the rival Red Sox.
• All-Star game, July 12: The debate surrounding Arizona’s immigration law could ramp up again ahead of the All-Star game at Chase Field. The players’ union issued a statement last summer condemning the law, but Commissioner Bud Selig showed no inclination to heed the calls for moving the Midsummer Classic from Phoenix.
• Hall of Fame inductions, July 24: Bert Blyleven finally enters the Cooperstown shrine after falling short in his first 13 tries on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, joining 12-time All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar and longtime baseball executive Pat Gillick in the 2011 class.
• San Francisco Giants at Philadelphia Phillies, July 28: The Giants and Phillies close their first set since San Francisco eliminated Philadelphia in the NLCS last fall. The big difference now is Cliff Lee, who returned to Philadelphia in one of the winter’s biggest free-agent deals and adds to the spicy pitching possibilities when these teams meet.
• Trade deadline, July 31: The last chance for teams to make deals without having to first pass players through waivers.
• Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers, Aug. 26: This is the opener of the middle series in a daunting 10-game homestand that awaits the Rangers this summer. First, Boston comes to town for four games, followed by three against the Angels and three against Tampa Bay.
• Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals, Sept. 2: The defending N.L. Central champion Reds open their final scheduled series of the season against the team they dethroned.
• Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves, Sept. 28: Chipper Jones and the Braves close out the regular season with a three-game series against the Phillies that could have playoff implications for both teams.
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