Top events on the sports calendar

Top events on the sports calendar

By Damien Martin

The excitement of March Madness has come and gone, but now that it’s safe to go outside again, the spring sports calendar is warming up. Even if you can’t make it this year, these are dream items to stick on your bucket list and resurrect each time the flowers start blooming again.

Baseball is back
Opening Day has arrived, with all 30 Major League teams beginning their season last Thursday. It was the first time in 50 years that all MLB teams opened play on the same day. Whether it’s your goal to visit every stadium, take advantage of interleague play to see your team in a unfamiliar city or just invade your bitter rival’s ballpark, there are some great weekends to be designed around taking yourself out to the ball game. Minnesota and Cleveland will play a two-game series in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on April 17-18 and this year’s All-Star Game is July 17 in Washington, D.C.

The Masters
Augusta National in Georgia is always a big draw with the azaleas in bloom and the pimento cheese sandwiches plentiful. This year is a particularly hot ticket with the recent form of 14-time major champion Tiger Woods tantalizing fans as he seeks to end a 10-year major drought. Some oddsmakers have made Woods the favorite to win his fourth green jacket. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas are also projected to be near the top of the leaderboard at the tournament, which begins Thursday and concludes Sunday.

The Kentucky Derby
The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports runs for 144th time May 5 at Louisville’s Churchill Downs. Though the race itself is over in a heartbeat, the party lasts all weekend, with mint juleps flowing freely and ladies sporting garish hats. The Run for the Roses -- the winning horse is presented with a garland of 554 roses -- kicks off racing’s Triple Crown, which continues with the Preakness Stakes on the third Saturday in May and the Belmont Stakes in June.

The French Open
As if you needed an excuse to go to Paris, this year’s edition of the French Open will feature the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, going for an unprecedented 11th title on the men’s side, with no Roger Federer to stand in his way. On the women’s side, three-time champion Serena Williams will make her to Roland Garros after missing last year because of pregnancy. The tournament begins May 27 and ends June 10.

The World Cup
The U.S. men’s team failed to qualify for the first time since 1986, but this year’s tournament in Russia should be full of intrigue on and off the pitch. Five-time winner Brazil is the betting favorite, with defending champion Germany also a strong contender. This could also be the last best chance for Lionel Messi to lead Argentina to international glory after falling short in several tournament finals, including the 2014 World Cup. Russia has relaxed visa requirements for ticket holders, but do be on the lookout for hooligans. The tournament kicks off June 14 with Russia playing host to Saudi Arabia, and the final is July 15 in Moscow.

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