All-Stars, Iowa cornfield, Arenado return spice MLB schedule

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St. Louis Cardinals' Nolan Arenado slides safely into third after advancing on a throwing error by New York Mets catcher Tomas Nido during the first inning of a spring training baseball game Wednesday, March 3, 2021, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

CHICAGO – After one of its strangest seasons ever, baseball returns to a full schedule this year. The All-Star Game is back. Fans are back, too, at least small crowds in some places. And an Iowa cornfield is about to welcome a bunch of special visitors.

Here are a handful of dates to mark on the calendar:

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Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees: Opening day begins in the Bronx, with George Springer and the Blue Jays taking on DJ LeMahieu and the Yankees. Springer finalized a $150 million, six-year deal with Toronto in January, part of an active offseason for the Blue Jays. He batted .265 with 14 homers and 32 RBIs during his final year in Houston. While Springer found a new home in free agency, LeMahieu stayed in New York for a $90 million, six-year contract after he led the majors with a .364 batting average last season.


Washington Nationals at Los Angeles Dodgers: The last two World Series champions meet in the home opener at Dodger Stadium. The Nationals are looking to bounce back after struggling last year, and the return of ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg should help after he missed most of last season because of a nerve issue in his right wrist. The Dodgers are going for their second straight title, and they added Trevor Bauer to their already-loaded rotation in February.


New York Mets at Atlanta Braves: Francisco Lindor gets his first taste of one of baseball's best rivalries when the Mets open a three-game series against Freddie Freeman and the Braves. Lindor, a four-time All-Star shortstop who was acquired in a January trade with Cleveland, is hoping to lead New York back into the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Freeman won the NL MVP award last season, helping Atlanta get all the way to the NL Championship Series. With a good young rotation and a deep lineup, the Braves are looking for their first World Series title since 1995.


Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres: The Dodgers have been on top of the NL West for almost a decade, but the Padres are looking to end their reign after making the playoffs last year for the first time since 2006. San Diego traded for aces Blake Snell and Yu Darvish in the offseason, and shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. agreed to a $330 million, 14-year contract. While San Diego is much improved, World Series MVP Corey Seager and Los Angeles are well-positioned for a run at another championship.


St. Louis Cardinals at Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado returns to Colorado after the Rockies traded the Gold Glove third baseman to the Cardinals on Feb. 1. Arenado was drafted by Colorado and spent his first eight seasons with the team, blossoming into one of baseball's most dangerous sluggers. Frustrated with his treatment by Colorado's front office, he was shipped off to St. Louis for left-hander Austin Gomber and four minor leaguers. The Rockies are headed toward another tough decision with shortstop Trevor Story, who is eligible for free agency after this season.


All-Star Game in Atlanta: The Midsummer Classic is back after last year's game was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Opened in 2017, Truist Park hosts the event. The American League has won the last seven All-Star Games. The last time the All-Stars descended on Atlanta, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter had three hits and two RBIs in the AL's 6-3 victory at Turner Field in 2000.


New York Yankees at Chicago White Sox: Major League Baseball comes to Iowa. Well, it's going to try anyway. In an homage to “Field of Dreams,” the Yankees and White Sox are scheduled to play at the cornfield in eastern Iowa where the 1989 movie was filmed. The tribute was supposed to take place last year, but it was canceled because of the pandemic.


Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics: The AL West rivals close out their season series with Oakland's home finale. The A's went 7-3 against the Astros last year on the way to their first division title since 2013. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson are back for Oakland, but fellow infielder Marcus Semien signed with Toronto in free agency. The Astros have a hole in their lineup with Springer's departure, but designated hitter Yordan Álvarez returns after missing most of last year.


Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins: Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera is 13 homers shy of 500 and 134 hits away from 3,000, and reaching those milestones this year could be really close. The two-time AL MVP, who turns 38 in April, had 12 homers and 139 hits in 136 games during his last full season in 2019. The rebuilding Tigers finish the regular season at Minnesota, and Cabrera is a .316 hitter with 45 homers in 202 career games against the Twins.


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