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Dodgers-Padres to kick off stateside 2014 schedule

ESPN set to mark 25th season of MLB coverage with March 30 opener

Tickets are now available for the 2014 Major League Baseball season, and fans can expect to see a lot of the Dodgers right away. There is so much excitement surrounding that club right now, it is about to be featured in three Opening Day extravaganzas.

The Dodgers already were scheduled to face the D-backs in MLB's historic Opening Series on March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia, and then in a big home opener against the rival Giants on April 4. On Thursday, ESPN announced that the Dodgers and Padres will be the matchup in the annual MLB Opening Night game on Sunday, March 30, at Petco Park.

That will begin the 25th season of MLB games on ESPN. The network's new "Sunday Night Baseball" team of Dan Shulman, analysts John Kruk and Curt Schilling and reporter Buster Olney will make its regular-season debut to call the action.

What remains to be seen is whether the Dodgers' involvement in three immediate high-profile opener showcases will translate into three prominent starts for two-time National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. The schedule certainly allows for such speculation, but insiders say the last thing the Dodgers would want to do is ask too much too early from a franchise pitcher coming off a 260-inning season.

There are 13 Opening Day games around the Majors on Monday, March 31. Nine of them are division matchups, including: the traditional opener in Cincinnati, where the Reds start their season with an immediate challenge from the defending National League champion Cardinals; Boston's opener at Baltimore as the first step in defense of its 2013 World Series title; and Robinson Cano's Seattle debut against Mike Trout and the Angels.

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, and the expected return to the mound of Jose Fernandez; and a game in Oakland between the Indians and A's, both of whom made it to the postseason in 2013.

MLB.TV will be back this spring to stream all live out-of-market games over a wide array of connected and mobile devices, a way of life for millions of subscribers over the years. Be on the lookout at for details about this year's package.

ESPN will televise five Opening Day games on that Monday as part of its rollout, featuring at least 12 hours of live action. That schedule will include Cubs at Pirates, Red Sox at Orioles, Cardinals at Reds, Rockies at Marlins and Mariners at Angels.

Nine games are scheduled for Tuesday, April 1, including the season debuts for the Astros and Yankees at Minute Maid Park.

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

The Opening Series in Australia will mark MLB's first official games on that continent. MLB has opened seasons in Monterrey, Mexico (1999); Tokyo, Japan (2000, '04, '08, '12); and San Juan, Puerto Rico ('01).

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

As it did in 2013, Interleague Play will once again take place throughout the season. 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 on May 5-6 at Wrigley Field and May 7-8 at U.S. Cellular Field; Mets-Yankees on May 12-13 in the Bronx and May 14-15 in Queens; and the Bay Bridge Series on 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 2012'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.

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