Post-Gazette baseball writer Jenn Menendez highlights games and series fans will want to circle for the 2014 season.
March 31: The Chicago Cubs are back for a second consecutive season and home opener at PNC Park, helping the Pirates begin their 128th season. First pitch is 1:05 p.m. Opening day starters: Francisco Liriano vs. Jeff Samardzija.
April 4: The schedule-maker wastes no time. The St. Louis Cardinals -- the team the Pirates battled throughout 2013 and the team that ended the Pirates' magical return to the postseason -- come to town for three games before the first week is out.
April 21: Johnny "Cue-to, Cue-to" and the Cincinnati Reds return to PNC Park for the first time since that cool October night. How many batters will get plunked? The count starts during this four game series. Twenty-eight batters were hit in Pirates-Reds games last year.
May 16-18: The New York Yankees appear on the Pirates schedule for the first time since 2008 and only the fourth time since interleague play began. It is also just their fourth meeting since the epic 1960 World Series. Cue the tape loop of Maz's homer.
July 4-6: The $16 million-dollar-man, A.J. Burnett, right, returns to PNC Park on Independence Day. The question: Will Burnett's spot in the rotation be up so he can take the mound that helped him resurrect his career? What are the odds on a standing ovation?
July 31: A West Coast trip at the trade deadline. The Pirates could be in the market depending on how the situations at first base and right field pan out. The lead-up to the deadline includes a three-city swing: Colorado July 25-27, San Francisco July 28-30 and Arizona July 31-Aug. 3.
Sept 1-3: The final three games vs. division rival St. Louis in St. Louis. Recent history says the Cardinals are likely to be leading the NL Central, and this will be the best direct shot at making up ground in the division.
Sept. 9: On Sept. 9, 2013, the Pirates won game No. 82, a 1-0 victory against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas, assuring a winning season for the first time since 1992. This year the Pirates will be in Philadelphia for four game series at Citizens Bank Park Sept. 8-11. Can they make it two seasons in a row with an 82nd win during this series?
Sept. 16-18: The Pirates host the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox for a three-game series that falls smack in the middle of (hopefully) a pennant race. This could be a brutal time for the joys of interleague play, with Red Sox hitters like David Ortiz, pictured at left, Mike Napoli, and Dustin Pedroia to worry about. The Pirates last hosted the Red Sox at PNC Park in 2011, and once before in 2003, a year before they broke The Curse.