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From Sydney and on: Exciting games slated for '14

Newly released schedule highlighted by key Opening Day, Interleague matchups

It is normally bad form to look beyond the next pitch, next inning and next game, but you can throw all that out the window when it comes to next year's schedule.

The ultimate day of looking ahead has arrived -- for Major League Baseball families, fans, hospitality staff, media and all associated with the national pastime. MLB on Tuesday released a tentative 2014 master schedule that starts in one continent's fall and ends in another's.

As unveiled in June, the season opens with the historic March 22-23 Opening Series between the Dodgers and host D-backs in Sydney, Australia. MLB has opened seasons in Monterrey, Mexico (1999); Tokyo, Japan (2000, '04, '08, '12); and San Juan, Puerto Rico ('01).

One week after the completion of that series, the 25th season of ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" will begin the rest of the schedule on March 30. That Opening Night matchup will be announced later.

There are 14 Opening Day games on Monday, March 31. Ten of them are divisional matchups, including the traditional opener in Cincinnati, where the Reds start their season with an immediate challenge from the National League Central-rival Cardinals.

The other four games that day include: an Interleague contest between the host Rangers and the Phillies; the Atlanta Braves visiting Milwaukee, the city where they were located from 1953-65, to play the Brewers; a matchup between 1993 expansion clubs Colorado and Miami, almost guaranteed to be Jose Fernandez's next regular-season start after Wednesday; and a game in Oakland between the Indians and A's, both of whom are battling for postseason berths now.

Nine games are scheduled for Tuesday, April 1, including the season debuts for the Astros and Yankees at Minute Maid Park. So begins a new post-Mariano Rivera era, meaning no player will wear No. 42 again starting with that game. The number was retired in 1997 throughout MLB to honor Jackie Robinson, and Rivera was wearing it before that declaration was made.

The final scheduled day of the 2014 regular season will be Sunday, Sept. 28, and will feature 12 divisional games. It follows this season's format, permitting a World Series end in October.

Other important dates next season include Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, the first day of the 2014 MLB Draft on June 5 and the 85th All-Star Game at Target Field in Minneapolis on July 15.

For the first time since Toronto's Rogers Centre (originally Skydome) was built in 1989, MLB is on course to go a second straight season without the opening of a new ballpark -- only further demonstrating what has been an unparalleled era of new architecture. One legacy of Commissioner Bud Selig's long tenure has been an almost constant rollout of new stadiums, never less often than every other year, with Marlins Park in 2012 the last opening. Starting with Camden Yards in 1992, the year he became acting Commissioner, 21 new ballparks have opened.

Interleague Play will once again take place throughout the season following MLB's decision to put Houston in the American League for a 2013 balanced schedule with six five-team divisions. For full Interleague series, teams rotate divisions on a yearly basis, and in 2014 it will be the NL East vs. AL West, NL West vs. AL Central and NL Central vs. AL East.

The home-and-home rivalry series format returns for a second year, with such examples as Reds vs. Indians on Aug. 4-5 at Cleveland and Aug. 6-7 at Cincinnati; the Windy City Series May 5-6 at Wrigley Field and May 7-8 at U.S. Cellular Field; Mets-Yankees May 12-13 in the Bronx and May 14-15 in Queens; and the Bay Bridge Series June 7-8 in Oakland and June 9-10 at AT&T Park.

There will be familiar sights. How about a rematch of the 2012 World Series? The Giants play Sept. 5-7 at Detroit -- site of last year's Game 4 clincher. How about a 50th anniversary of the Cardinals' seven-game World Series triumph over the Yankees? New York makes its first trip to Busch Stadium II on May 26-28, and that history will be front and center.

There will be rare sights. Pittsburgh's June 23-25 visit to Tropicana Field will mark its first there since 2003. That's the same year Tampa Bay last visited Wrigley Field, but Joe Maddon and his Rays will be there on Aug. 8-10. And it's the last year the Padres played the White Sox in Chicago, a run that will end May 30-June 1.

The Red Sox will celebrate the 10th-anniversary of the season that reversed the curse, and Milwaukee will be Boston's home-opener foe for the first time since 1975 -- when Hank Aaron played his first game in a Brewers' uniform. The Dodgers made their only previous visit to Kansas City in 2005 and were swept in three games, and they are scheduled to return with ex-Royal Zack Greinke on June 23-25. The Yankees make an unprecedented two-team Chicago visit, facing the Cubs on May 20-21 and then the White Sox on May 22-25.

Keep a close eye on Toronto, which has not won a series in Tampa since April 2007 and has a 16-44 record over that span of 19 road trips. The Blue Jays open the season with a four-game series there, perhaps a harbinger for a club that failed to meet expectations in 2013.

The announced 2014 schedule and start times are tentative and subject to change. The official schedule, with complete home and road start times, will be released in January.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.