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MLB looks ahead to 2021 with earliest-ever schedule release

The New York Mets and Yankees, shown here at Citi Field, will play against each other there on September 11, 2021, marking the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in New York. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Just three days after releasing its revised 2020 schedule that was heavily reduced due to Covid-19, Major League Baseball is already looking ahead to next year.

The league has completed its 2021 schedule, with plans in place to start a full, 162-game regular season for each team on April 1 next year, and the overall slate is premised on the expectation that MLB will be able to stage a complete season next year.

MLB intends to have 2021 be the first season since 1968 to have all 30 teams open their campaigns on the same day, a goal that had previously been established for the 2020 season before the arrival of the pandemic, but not realized.

The 2021 regular season is also slated to conclude on October 3, with both the start and finish of next year nearly a week later than what was originally contemplated for the 2020 campaign.

The early start that had been previously designed for 2020 was driven heavily by MLB’s desire to finish the postseason before the US Presidential Election on November 3, something still slated to happen in this year’s revised schedule.

The 2021 schedule, conversely, does not have that issue and the league instead gravitated toward April 1 on the calendar to enable its typical season start on a Thursday.

The schedule release itself for 2021 is the earliest ever in league history, as MLB in recent years has unveiled the following year’s schedule in August, and before that had done so in early September. But with no ticket revenue being generated so far this year because of the public health crisis, MLB clubs are particularly eager to begin advance sales efforts for 2021.

And while no MLB games were held this spring, league executives were still able to continue on their normal schedule development process that actually began in earnest last fall. Like the creation of the 2019 and original 2020 schedules, MLB again conducted in-depth interviews with each club president, expanding significantly from prior written questionnaires for club-level input.

Perhaps the most noteworthy event on the 2021 schedule is a game on September 11 at Citi Field between the New York Mets and Yankees, marking the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on that date. It will also represent the first time the Mets and Yankees have played each other on September 11.

The 2021 All-Star Game will be played July 13 at Truist Park in Atlanta. The league earlier this month canceled the 2020 game that was to be played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, and will stage the 2022 Midsummer Classic there instead.

MLB next August is also set to make its fourth trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, site of the Little League World Series, to play the MLB Little Classic, having committed to return after the 2020 version of that game and entire youth baseball tournament was canceled in April. Teams for that event, however, have not been finalized.

The league, meanwhile, has not made any announcements on any planned international games for 2021, and those events remain on hold due to travel complications and uncertainties surrounding the pandemic.

The collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association contains an international play plan calling for two trips to Mexico next year, to follow a planned 2020 trip there that was called off due to Covid-19. But those games next year are uncertain at best, and not part of the current 2021 schedule release.

MLB, meanwhile, also does not plan to attempt a return to England next year to revive the London Series, according to industry sources. The special-event games at London Stadium began last year with the Yankees and Boston Red Sox to great success. But this year’s attempted revival with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs was also canceled due to the pandemic.

The interleague division rotational pairings in the 2021 schedule are American League East-National League East, AL Central-NL Central, and AL West-NL West. But much like recent years, the 2021 schedule will feature a focus on slating divisional games primarily at the beginning and end of the season to allow for easier reschedulings in the event of weather postponements. Opening Day will feature 10 divisional games out of total of 15 scheduled, and 12 on the regular season finale.