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:

THURSDAY, APRIL 1

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.

FRIDAY, APRIL 9

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.

MONDAY, MAY 17

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.