A Lone Star State opener, a Big Apple All-Star game and one unusual induction ceremony for the Hall of Fame highlight the 2013 major league season. A handful of dates to mark on the schedule:
SUNDAY, MARCH 31
Texas Rangers at Houston Astros: The season starts with a pair of Texas teams trying to adapt to vastly different situations than they faced a year ago. It's the first American League appearance for the Astros, who lost more than 100 games in each of their last two years in the NL. The Rangers are hoping to return to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, but their potent lineup lost two key contributors when Josh Hamilton left in free agency and Michael Young was traded to the Phillies in December.
MONDAY, APRIL 1
San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers: The World Series winners begin their defense against the rival Dodgers, who think they can make it two titles in a row for the NL West. Los Angeles strengthened its rotation by signing right-hander Zack Greinke over the winter, and All-Star Matt Kemp anchors a dynamic lineup. NL MVP Buster Posey leads a familiar group of Giants seeking a third championship in four seasons, an accomplishment that would rank among the greatest runs in baseball history.
FRIDAY, APRIL 5
Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers: Baseball gets one awkward return out of the way in the first week when Hamilton plays his first game in Texas since he left the Rangers in December for a $125 million, five-year contract with the rival Angels. The 31-year-old outfielder belted 230 homers in five seasons with Texas, including 43 last year, but is likely headed for an icy reception when he takes the field at Rangers Ballpark for the first time since the megadeal with L.A.
MONDAY, APRIL 29
Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves: Tons of speed and power in the outfield when the Nationals make their first trip of the season to Atlanta to face the new-look Braves. Denard Span will lead off and play center field for Washington after he was acquired in a trade with Minnesota. Atlanta brought in brothers B.J. and Justin Upton to beef up its lineup after finishing second in the NL East to the Nationals last year. Don't forget about budding star Bryce Harper of Washington and Atlanta slugger Jason Heyward, either.
TUESDAY, JULY 16
All-Star game: The New York Mets' Citi Field hosts the Midsummer Classic for the first time since it opened in 2009. It's the first All-Star game in New York since 2008, when the AL won 4-3 in 15 innings in the final season of old Yankee Stadium. The AL won again the following year, but it's been all National League of late, winning the last three by a combined score of 16-2.
FRIDAY, JULY 19
New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox: It's always a circus when these AL East powers meet, but this one could take on added significance depending on the status of Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez. The injured third baseman was expected to be sidelined for six months following left hip surgery on Jan. 16, and New York makes its first trip of the season to Boston for its first series following the All-Star break.
SUNDAY, JULY 28
Hall of Fame inductions: For the first time since 1996, not one player received the 75 percent required for induction when the baseball writers voted for the Hall of Fame. So this year's Cooperstown class includes Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, umpire Hank O'Day and barehanded catcher Deacon White, who all died more than 70 years ago. They were chosen by the 16-member panel considering individuals from the era before integration in 1947.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 31
Trade deadline: The last chance for teams to make deals without having to first pass players through waivers.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 2
St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto and the Reds are coming off their second NL Central title in three years, and they're looking for a whole lot more this season after trading for Shin-Soo Choo to fill the giant void at the top of the lineup. Their biggest competition in the division could be the Cardinals, who lost right-hander Chris Carpenter and shortstop Rafael Furcal to injuries before the season even started, but always seem to find a way to contend.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1
Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers: The Indians, Royals and White Sox all could challenge the Tigers for the AL Central crown. The improved Tribe faces Detroit six times in August, then opens the final month of the season with their last scheduled game against the Tigers.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 29
Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays: Baseball's only remaining team in Canada hasn't made it to the playoffs since it won consecutive World Series in 1992 and 1993. That could change this year after Toronto revamped its rotation and lineup during an unusually active winter. The Blue Jays close the season with three games against the Rays, who also think they have what it takes to win the AL East and make a long postseason run.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap