PHILADELPHIA -- Highlights of the Pirates' 2010 schedule ...
April 5: The 124th season for the Pittsburgh Baseball Club opens at PNC Park for the first time since 2005, just the fourth true home opener in the past 15 years and the first opener anywhere against the Los Angeles Dodgers since they were based in Brooklyn. And, despite the spring just passed, there is ample recent precedent to suggest it could have a dramatic finish in the Pirates' favor: They have won their past three openers, all on the road, two in extra innings in Houston and Atlanta, followed by a four-run, ninth-inning rally last year in St. Louis to sink the Cardinals, 6-4, on Jack Wilson's bases-clearing double.
April 17: Technically, this is the first day the Pirates can promote top prospect Pedro Alvarez without forfeiting a year of his rights before free agency. He will not be promoted on this date but, most likely, after two months in the minors, in part to avoid a large salary arbitration payment down the road.
May 20: By this date, the Pirates will have played 26 of their first 39 games against four teams that have tortured them in recent years -- the Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals -- plus two against the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies. Anyone care to make a prediction for that span?
May 21: Nate McLouth returns to Pittsburgh for the first time, and his Atlanta Braves can be expected to bring outfielder Jason Heyward, the sport's top prospect entering this season.
May 22: A Garrett Jones action figure will be handed out to fans. And to think, on May 22, 2009, nary a soul in Pittsburgh had heard of the Legend.
June 4: Freddy Sanchez returns for the first time, with the San Francisco Giants. And no, Jack Wilson will not be joining him in the parade of returns. No Seattle Mariners on the schedule.
June 5: First of three SkyBlast nights, featuring Collective Soul.
June 7: The beginning of the three-day draft. The Pirates will have the No. 2 overall pick, right behind Washington. And, if the Nationals pass on gifted but expensive Nevada catcher Bryce Harper -- two words: Scott Boras -- pressure on the Pirates is sure to be high to pay up.
June 11: Interleague play begins in Detroit, and that tends not to go well for the Pirates, now 71-110 against the American League. But that record included a rare head-poke out of the water last summer at 8-7.
June 18: Used to be a big deal when the Cleveland Indians came, but only 69,391 showed for the three-game set last summer. Well, this one will be a bigger deal, if only because the Pirates will spend this three-day weekend celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1960 World Series, with Bill Mazeroski and many members of that team expected to attend.
June 22: Nine interleague games on the road, going through Dallas, Oakland and, of course, Chicago. This is three consecutive years of visiting the White Sox, which might be Major League Baseball's way of trying to tell someone this should be the Pirates' natural rival.
July 2: Beginning of the signing period for international amateurs. Is there another Miguel Sano to be had? Is so, pressure on the Pirates is sure to be high to pay up.
July 13: All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif. Who would bet against Andrew McCutchen being the Pirates' representative?
July 16: Assuming the Pirates play their first relevant second-half baseball in 13 years, this will be the time to make hay. Twenty-seven of their first 39 games after the break are at PNC, and 19 games will be against Central Division opponents.
July 24: Postgame concert, Steve Miller.
July 31: Trade deadline day. Really, who's left to send out?
Aug. 6: Only one bobblehead all year, and it will be McCutchen. Could this trend be at an end? Or have the Pirates seen the bargain rates for those Chris Duffy and Ronny Paulino models on eBay?
Aug. 7: SkyBlast II, George Thorogood.
Aug. 15: Deadline to sign draft picks. If the Pirates have drafted Harper ... well, you know.
Aug. 20: Jason Bay, now with the New York Mets, returns to Pittsburgh for the first time since the trade. The question that day might be: Will the Pirates have anyone on their roster from that trade?
Sept. 4: Postgame concert, Luke Bryan.
Sept. 5: The Mazeroski statue will be unveiled, out on Mazeroski Way, before the day game against the Nationals.
Sept. 8: The season series with the Braves concludes, and that will mark Bobby Cox's final game managing against the Pirates. He is retiring after this season, with 22 years and 14 playoff appearances -- or will it be 15? -- at the helm.
Sept. 25: SkyBlast III, O.A.R.
Oct. 3: The local team playing in October? Well, yeah, the weekend dips into the season finale in Miami, where the Pirates either will be finishing their 18th consecutive losing season or ... taking on the Florida Marlins with that elusive 82nd victory on the line.
Oct. 13: Ten days later, and exactly 50 years after the fact, the annual crowd will gather at the old Forbes Field wall to listen to the radio replay of the greatest moment in baseball history. Should be quite the roar at about 3:36 p.m.