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MLB 2012: Key dates for the upcoming season

New Boston manager Bobby Valentine gets his formal introduction to baseball’s biggest rivalry when the Red Sox and Yankees kick off a three-game set April 20 on the 100th anniversary of the opening of Fenway Park.

New Boston manager Bobby Valentine gets his formal introduction to baseball’s biggest rivalry when the Red Sox and Yankees kick off a three-game set April 20 on the 100th anniversary of the opening of Fenway Park.

A new home for the Fish, a special anniversary and a farewell to the NL for the Astros highlight the 2012 major league season. A handful of dates to mark on the schedule:

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 4

St. Louis Cardinals at Miami Marlins: Everything is brand new in South Florida, where Miami welcomes the World Series champion Cardinals for the first official game in Marlins Ballpark. The ex-Florida Marlins have a new manager, a rebuilt roster and a new home that includes a retractable roof, two 450-gallon aquarium tanks behind home plate and a pool behind the left-field wall. St. Louis, of course, is acclimating to life without longtime manager Tony La Russa and three-time MVP Albert Pujols, who signed a big free-agent deal with the Angels over the winter.

FRIDAY, APRIL 6

Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Angels: Speaking of the former Cardinals slugger, Pujols and the Angels host the Royals in their home opener. Pujols was the major acquisition during an offseason spending spree by owner Artie Moreno that could return Los Angeles to the top of the AL West. Kansas City is hoping some of its top prospects will take the next step this season, allowing the Royals to compete with Detroit in the AL Central.

FRIDAY, APRIL 20

New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox: Bobby Valentine gets his formal introduction to baseball’s biggest rivalry when the Red Sox and Yankees kick off a three-game set on the 100th anniversary of the opening of Fenway Park. Valentine became the 45th manager of the Red Sox on December 1 and almost immediately started tweaking the Yankees, saying he hated them now and fondly recalling when retired Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek “beat up Alex” Rodriguez in 2004.

MONDAY, MAY 28

Arizona Diamondbacks at San Francisco Giants: The defending NL West champions make their first trip of the season to AT&T Park to face San Francisco, which won the division in 2010 on its way to the World Series title. The Giants are hoping Buster Posey’s return from season-ending leg injuries will be enough to get their offense back on track, while the Diamondbacks are loaded again after acquiring right-hander Trevor Cahill from Oakland in December. After this three-game series, the division rivals don’t meet again until September, when they face off nine times down the stretch.

FRIDAY, JUNE 15

Boston Red Sox at Chicago Cubs: Two of baseball’s most storied franchises meet at one of the sport’s best venues, and the focus will be on someone who won’t play at all the entire weekend. Theo Epstein left Boston in October to become the president of the woebegone Cubs and was greeted as a miracle worker when he arrived on the North Side. The Red Sox and Cubs needed months to decide on appropriate compensation for the general manager, and this could be one awkward reunion at Wrigley Field.

TUESDAY, JULY 10

All-Star game: The Midsummer Classic returns to Kansas City for the first time since 1973, when Bobby Bonds was the most valuable player in the National League’s 7-1 victory. Prince Fielder hit a three-run homer to lead the NL to a 5-1 win last year in Phoenix, and the Cardinals made the most of their home-field advantage in the World Series when they closed out their seven-game duel with Texas with two victories at Busch Stadium.

SUNDAY, JULY 22

Hall of Fame inductions: Barry Larkin, one of baseball’s best all-around players in the 1990s, and the late Ron Santo make up this year’s Cooperstown class. A 12-time All-Star, Larkin helped his hometown Cincinnati Reds win the 1990 World Series and in 1996 became the first shortstop to have 30 homers and 30 steals in a season. Santo, who was an All-Star third baseman and beloved broadcaster with the Chicago Cubs, was elected by the Veterans Committee in December, a year after he died from complications of bladder cancer at age 70.

TUESDAY, JULY 31

Trade deadline: The last chance for teams to make deals without having to first pass players through waivers.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 12

Detroit Tigers at Texas Rangers: Jim Leyland’s Tigers face Ron Washington’s Rangers in their last meeting of the regular season. Washington managed the Rangers to a six-game win over Leyland and the Tigers in the AL championship series last year, and the two could hook up in the playoffs again in 2012. But first up are 10 scheduled games, and maybe at least one matchup between Japanese rookie Yu Darvish and Tigers ace Justin Verlander.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21

Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies: Jimmy Rollins and the Phillies are seeking their sixth consecutive NL East title, and they close the season with 12 games against the biggest threats to their division reign. After the three-game set against the Braves, they host the Nationals for three before closing with series in Miami and Washington. Atlanta star Chipper Jones says this will be his final season, and the Braves are hoping to make it back to the playoffs after an epic collapse last year.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 3

Houston Astros at Chicago Cubs: Assuming the rebuilding Astros don’t make a surprising playoff appearance, this will be their final game in the National League. Houston is moving to the AL West next season to leave baseball with six five-team divisions.