A fan's guide to the Nationals' April schedule

Let's get you ready for the first month of the season, and if you have the good fortune of seeing the Nationals on the road to begin in Chicago and New York, here is a quick primer.

Every time I get an advance schedule for a local team, I always look to see what other sporting events are going on in the four major professional sports and check the live music or comedy schedules to see if they possibly matchup with off-days. I also have to hit the best pizza, wings or hot dog joints available in each town. Of course, I do.

The season begins with one final preseason contest at Nationals Park as the Nats face the Boston Red Sox. It is also schedule magnet day, so your chance to grab that schedule and place it on the fridge to plan your summer days and nights along South Capitol Street.

April 3: Exhibition vs. Boston Red Sox (schedule magnet giveaway), 3:05 p.m. (MASN)

After the game, it is the second annual Wounded Warrior Amputee Celebrity Softball Classic, a free event that includes the likes of MASN's own Johnny Holliday and F.P. Santangelo.

Then, it is time for the 2012 regular season. The team is quickly off to Illinois to open against the Chicago Cubs. Let's take a closer look at the first road trip of the season:

April 5: at Chicago Cubs, 2:20 p.m. (MASN)
April 7: at Chicago Cubs, 1:05 p.m. (MASN)
April 8: at Chicago Cubs, 2:20 p.m. (MASN)
April 9: at New York Mets, 7:10 p.m. (MASN2)
April 10: at New York Mets, 7:10 p.m. (MASN2)
April 11: at New York Mets, 1:10 p.m. (MASN)

Things to do, see or eat:

Chicago: Celtics at Bulls (April 5, 8:30 p.m.); The Second City (April 6, six shows, two each 7 p.m., 8 p.m., 11 p.m.); Pizano's Pizza (four locations, including State Street; also Dearborn and Chicago) or Gino's East; Michigan Avenue; Millennium Park; Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower); Navy Pier; Billy Goat Tavern; Blues at Kingston Mines; or Buddy Guy's Legends.

New York City: Bulls at Knicks (April 8, 1 p.m.); Time Warner Center; Empire State Building; Film Forum; West Village walk; Grimaldi's Pizzeria (19 Old Fulton St., Brooklyn); Nada Surf live at Music Hall of Williamsburg (April 8, 8 p.m.).

The Nationals return home late in the day April 11 and prepare for their initial 11-game homestand against the Reds, Astros and Marlins. The Nationals' home opener is April 12 at 1:05 p.m. against the Cincinnati Reds and that is the opening day cap giveaway.

April 12: Cincinnati Reds (opening day cap giveaway), 1:05 p.m. (MASN)
April 13: Cincinnati Reds (Natitude t-shirt giveaway), 7:05 p.m. (MASN2)
April 14: Cincinnati Reds (Stasburg bobblehead giveaway), 4:05 p.m. (MASN2)
April 15: Cincinnati Reds, 1:35 p.m. (MASN2)

April 16: Houston Astros, 7:05 p.m. (MASN)
April 17: Houston Astros, 7:05 p.m. (MASN)
April 18: Houston Astros, 7:05 p.m. (MASN)
April 19: Houston Astros, 7:05 p.m. (MASN)

April 20: Miami Marlins, 7:05 p.m. (MASN)
April 21: Miami Marlins, 1:05 p.m. (MASN)
April 22: Miami Marlins, 1:35 p.m. (MASN)

The Nationals round out the month of April with a difficult west coast trip to San Diego and Los Angeles from April 24-29 (all on MASN2). That is 23 games in April, 11 of those at home.

Last season, the Nationals started 12-14 in March/April and are hoping to get off to a better beginning this time around. They need to get off to a quick start and build up some wins so they surge this year instead of always feeling like they have to play catch up.

Bad starts in the past have doomed this team. A bad start by the Atlanta Braves really hurt their chances at the end of last season and that is all they have been talking about this year is getting off to a better beginning. The Nationals need to do the same with a pretty favorable schedule against teams like New York and Houston in the month of April.

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