The Blue Jays won’t play their home games in Toronto this year because Canada’s government doesn’t think it’s safe for players to travel back and forth from the United States.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said Saturday the federal government had denied the Blue Jays’ request to play at Rogers Centre, confirming what an official familiar with the matter had told The Associated Press ahead of the announcement.
The Blue Jays were informed via a phone call. The team’s alternate sites for home games include its training facility in Dunedin, which is among the states that are virus hotspots, as well as Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, which is home to Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate and just across the Niagara River from Canada.
The Blue Jays are scheduled to start the season July 24 at Tampa Bay. Their home opener was set for five days later against Washington.
Mendicino told the AP frequent travel to the U.S., where COVID-19 cases are surging, was the biggest issue.
“There were serious risks if we proceeded with the regular-season proposal of the MLB and the Jays and therefore we concluded it was not in the national interest,” Mendicino said.
The team had been given clearance by city and provincial governments to play in its home stadium and was awaiting approval from Canada’s federal government. The other 29 Major League Baseball teams plan to play in their home ballparks, without spectators, when the pandemic-shortened 60-game season begins on July 23.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz have pushed for the team to relocate to the city.
“Let’s find a way to make them the ‘Buffalo Blue Jays’ this year,” Poloncarz wrote in a text to the AP.
Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said player health is a concern in Florida. He said the team has spent more time examining Buffalo in recent days but said the stadium has infrastructure challenges. A lack of space in the clubhouse makes social distancing difficult, but Shapiro said some players could have their lockers set up in suites.
Sahlen Field also needs upgrades to its field lights and its training facilities, he said.
“Dunedin is the only one that is 100% seamless right now and ready to go. That from a player-health standpoint has some challenges,” Shapiro said. “Buffalo is certainly one that we’ve spent an increasing amount of time on in the past few weeks. That is not done. There are some infrastructure and player-facility challenges to get that up to major league standards. And then we have other alternatives that are real that we continue to work through that may be better for us.”
He declined to say what other sites they are considering. He said they would look to improve batting cages, weight rooms and training rooms in Buffalo if it is picked.
“Buffalo is the place we’ve spent the most time on in the last 10 days,” Shapiro said. “There is a lot we have to do. Some of it might get done after we start playing but I’m confident Buffalo is a viable alternative. With the amount of resources that we would marshal if we focused solely on Buffalo we can make it what it needs to be for us in time to play games.”
No affiliated minor league teams are playing this year, so the Bisons’ stadium is empty.
“We are continuing to explore the best ways to adapt the available spaces in our ballpark to meet the needs of the Blue Jays,” said Mike Buczkowski, the president of Rich Baseball Operations, which oversees the team.
Washington pitcher Max Scherzer said the Blue Jays’ situation is the latest wrinkle in the virus-delayed season.
“Whatever the challenge is, wherever you’ve got to play, wherever you’ve got to go, just keep a smile on your face,” Scherzer said. “Who knows where we’re going to play them — but we’re going to play baseball. We’re going to find a way to play them and get the games going. And when we do play them, it’s going to be fun, so just keep a smile on your face and try not to get too down about all the hoops we’re going to have to jump through.”
Shapiro called Canada’s decision disappointing but gave health officials credit for mitigating the spread of the virus.
“Without any hesitation we respect the decision. It’s not hard to think about how well managed and well led the virus has been throughout Toronto and Canada by public health and political leaders,” Shapiro said.
Mendicino said the government is open to considering future restart plans for the postseason should the risk of virus transmission diminish.
Republished with permission from The Associated Press.