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03/27/08 10:00 AM ET

Baseball fans, keep these dates open

Many exciting matchups fill out the regular season schedule

All the pageantry that was enjoyed by millions of television viewers worldwide and the goodwill achieved by Major League Baseball opening the 2008 season in Japan will hopefully bring some comfort to the Red Sox, whose early-season schedule does not let up much, to say the least.

Not many teams get to play in three different countries and two hemispheres over the course of a fortnight, which Boston will do by the end of the first week of April. The Athletics at least get to play at home for a while with their three-game Bay Area Series of exhibition games against the Giants and two regular season games in Oakland on April 1-2 against the Red Sox, reuniting the Tokyo Dome opponents.

While the A's and Giants close out their Spring Training schedule over the weekend, the Red Sox will do similar duties in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. Then it's up to Oakland for two games before moving on to Toronto.

By the time the Red Sox finally get back to Fenway Park for their April 8 home opener, they will have traveled from Florida to Japan to California to Canada over a span of 19 days. Oh, yes, and the team Boston faces that day will be Detroit, one of the major contenders for the American League pennant won by the Red Sox last year.

It could have been worse, some Red Sox fans might say. The Yankees might have been in town. Well, look who is coming to Fenway after the Tigers. You guessed it, the Yankees. That is part of the very bumpy ride the Red Sox will experience early on in their defense of their World Series title.

Through May 8, a period of 37 games -- including 19 at home -- the Red Sox have the most challenging schedule in the Majors with 23 games against opponents who played better than .500 a year ago. They catch the Yankees, Tigers and Indians twice apiece in that stretch.

The Yankees don't have it much easier. Their schedule over the same span (36 games divided equally home and away) pits them against 21 .500-plus teams from '07 and a significant stretch of time on the road in April.

Detroit's status as a favorite will get tested early as the Tigers bang into the Red Sox and the Yankees twice each in a 36-game stretch during which they play 19 .500-plus '07 clubs.

Conversely, the defending AL Central champion Indians play only 14 .500-plus teams and may not have to deal with the snow that buried them early last year with a swing through Anaheim and Oakland in the first two weeks. The Angels' strength of schedule is a conflict in terms with only 12 of their first 38 games coming against .500 '07 teams.

As if it isn't difficult enough to put together a Major League schedule with all the travel concerns of 30 clubs, how about finally completing it and then finding out that it has to be re-addressed?

That was the glitch this year for Katy Feeney, senior vice president for scheduling and club relations.

"There always seems to be something every year that for one reason or another you didn't foresee," Feeney said.

After the 2008 schedule was finalized under a new system that had some growing pains, Feeney was informed that some alterations would have to be made because of a state visit by a world leader. The United States tour of Pope Benedict XI would include celebrations of Mass April 17 at new Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., and April 20 at old Yankee Stadium in New York.

Opening Day
Countdown to Opening Day
•   March 23: Turnaround tales to be told
•   March 23: Rule 5 decisions loom
•   March 24: Free agents on the spot
•   March 25: Breakout players in 2008
•   March 25: Comeback candidates
•   March 26: Top storylines for '08
•   March 26: Top AL rookie candidates
•   March 26: Top NL rookie candidates
•   March 27: AL Cy Young candidates
•   March 27: NL Cy Young candidates
•   March 27: Breaking down '08 slate
•   March 27: Century since Cubs' title
•   March 28: Top AL MVP candidates
•   March 28: Top NL MVP candidates
•   March 29: Changing of guard at short
•   March 30: Predictions for '08
•   March 30: '08 milestones
•   March 30: Season preview

"We did the best we could, but the changes had a tougher effect on the Yankees than the Nationals," Feeney said. "Just the way the dates went together, it was easier to adjust for the Nationals than it was for the Yankees."

While the Pope will be in the new facility in the nation's capital, the Nationals will be on a modest, eight-game, three-city trip through New York (Shea Stadium), Miami and Atlanta.

Yankee Stadium was the site of the first Mass ever celebrated by a Pope in America during Paul VI's historic visit in 1965. Now that the Bronx ballpark is in its final season, it was somehow appropriate that the current Pope take his turn behind the altar there.

But in doing so, the Yankees will be away from home an inordinate amount of time. Over a 21-day period, from April 8 through April 28, the Yankees will play 20 games -- 18 of them on the road. The Yankees' only home games during that stretch are April 16 and 17 against the Red Sox. That brief series follows a Yankees trip of eight games at Kansas City, Boston and Tampa Bay and precedes a 10-game swing through Baltimore, Chicago and Cleveland. The Yankees may need the Pope to offer up a prayer for them.

Nationals Park will be the setting for the stateside opener between the Nats and the Braves on March 30, which also kicks off ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" package. Both clubs will then travel immediately after the game to be in position to play other season openers elsewhere.

The Braves will go home to Turner Field for a night game against the Pirates. The Nationals need to be in Philadelphia for a day game against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, a bus trek up I-95. Those are two of 14 "lid lifters" on tap March 31.

The Yankees begin their last year in "The House That Ruth Built" that afternoon against the Blue Jays. Later in the day, former Yankees manager Joe Torre will make his Dodgers debut at Los Angeles against a Giants team that for the first time in 16 years will not feature Barry Bonds.

The Rockies will get started that day against the Cardinals in St. Louis, a matchup of the past two National League pennant winners. And who knows what the reaction at the Metrodome in Minneapolis will be when former Twins center fielder Torii Hunter is announced in the lineup of the visiting Angels?

The Rays follow the Jays into Yankee Stadium April 4, a series that will draw considerably more interest than many previous Yankees-Tampa Bay encounters based on their Spring Training episodes.

After opening the season on the road, the Mets will launch their final season at Shea Stadium on April 8 against the team that beat them out for the NL East title last year, the Phillies. Shea will also mark Torre's New York return May 30-June 1 when the Dodgers come to town.

April also provides a couple of rare "doubleheaders" involving four clubs in the same city on one day. In Chicago on April 22, the Cubs will play the Mets at 1:20 p.m. at Wrigley Field in the afternoon, and the White Sox will oppose the Yankees at U.S. Cellular Field at night. In New York April 30, the Mets will play the Pirates at Shea Stadium in the afternoon and the Yankees will go against the Tigers that night at Yankee Stadium. The night before, both games at Shea and Yankee Stadiums will start at 7 p.m.

The first of the annual Cubs-Cardinals series begins May 2. A week later, the Rockies and the Padres play each other for the first time since last year's one-game playoff for the NL Wild Card berth.

The first round of Interleague play will begin on May 16-18 with traditional rivals facing off: Mets-Yankees, Dodgers-Angels, Astros-Rangers and Orioles-Nationals. The Interleague matchups this year pair the NL Central against the AL East, the NL East against the AL West and the AL Central against the NL West. That creates some interesting situations.

Series beginning June 13 include rematches of the 1979 World Series (Pirates-Orioles) and 1975 World Series (Red Sox-Reds), the Yankees going to Houston (will Roger Clemens be in the house?) and a series between a team from the state of Washington (Mariners) and the city of Washington (Nationals).

Series beginning June 17 include former World Series opponents the Yankees and Padres (1998) and the Royals and Cardinals (1985), plus the Twins, who used to be the Washington Senators, playing the Nationals and Cubs manager Lou Piniella returning to his home area of Tampa Bay.

Three-time World Series opponents the Cardinals and Red Sox (1946, 1967, 2004) and the Yankees and Reds (1939, 1961, 1976) square off in Interleague sets beginning June 20. The Cardinals and Tigers, also three-time World Series foes (1934, 1968, 2006), meet again beginning June 24, along with two-time World Series opponents the Yankees and Pirates (1927, 1960) and a rematch of the 1959 World Series between the Dodgers and the White Sox.

Among the best moves on the schedule occurs July 13, the Sunday prior to the All-Star Game on July 15 at Yankee Stadium. The Sunday night game, often an issue with players having to travel overnight to the site of the All-Star Game, will feature the Rockies against the Mets at Shea Stadium, just seven miles across the East River.

Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.