Less than a week from opening day, the Toronto Blue Jays are in search of a place to play.
The Blue Jays, the only current Major League Baseball team located in Canada, announced Saturday that the Canadian federal government has barred them from playing regular-season games in Toronto. The Blue Jays will be allowed to finish out its preseason “Summer Camp” in Toronto, but Canada has decided not to welcome MLB teams into the country for games during the COVID-19 pandemic. The border between Canada and the United States is closed for non-essential travel.
“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,” Canada immigration minister Marco Mendicino told The Associated Press.
The Blue Jays’ 60-game season is scheduled to begin Friday in Tampa Bay. Their home opener is July 29 against the Washington Nationals. The Blue Jays will have to play somewhere other than the Rogers Centre, their retractable-roof home stadium since 1989.
“From the onset of discussions with league and government officials, the safety of the broader community — our fans — and the team remained the priority of everyone involved, and with that, the club completely respects the federal government’s decision,” Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said in a statement posted on the team’s Twitter account. “Though our team will not be playing home games at Rogers Centre this summer, our players will take the field for the 2020 season with the same pride and passion representative of an entire nation. We cannot wait until the day comes that we can play in front of our fans again on Canadian soil.”
The Blue Jays’ proposal to play in Toronto included the team and their opponents being confined to the Rogers Centre and the attached hotel. The city and provincial governments had cleared the Blue Jays to play in Toronto, while the federal government left open the possibility of the team returning home for the postseason.
Among the top regular-season options for the Blue Jays include playing in Dunedin, Fla., at the home of their Class A-advanced minor league team. However, Florida’s COVID-19 numbers have recently spiked. Buffalo, N.Y., which is located about 100 miles from Toronto and the home of the franchise’s AAA affiliate, is also a possibility, although Sahlen Field isn’t necessarily an MLB-quality stadium.
“Dunedin is the only one that is 100 percent seamless right now and ready to go,” Shapiro said. “That, from a player health standpoint, has some challenges. Buffalo is certainly one we have spent an increasing amount of time in the past few weeks on. That is not done and there are some infrastructure and player facility challenges we would have to address to get that up to Major League standards.”
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Blue Jays are looking into playing at PNC Park, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Blue Jays and Pirates have just seven days — six of which come Sept. 8 or later — in which they are both scheduled to play home games.