Blue Jays denied approval to play in Toronto

July 19th, 2020

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have been denied approval from the Canadian federal government to play their regular-season games in Toronto, the club announced on Saturday. The club is in the process of finalizing the best home location for the 2020 season.

“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. “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 club had received a federal exemption to carry out Summer Camp in Toronto, but the regular-season issue was a separate negotiation with the added complications of visiting teams crossing the Canada-U.S.A. border, which is still closed to all non-essential travel. The regular season also would have involved the Blue Jays traveling to American cities for road games, then returning home across the border.

In a statement announcing the decision, Canadian minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship Marco E. L. Mendicino left open the possibility that the decision could be revisited for potential postseason games in Toronto "should the risk of virus transmission diminish."

“As we got the decision this evening, we move forward with no excuses,” Shapiro said in an interview following the statement, "knowing that all of our alternatives are going to be somewhat imperfect, but we’re not going to make excuses.”

Players and staff have been operating under a strict “modified quarantine” plan through Summer Camp, which has seen them refined to Rogers Centre and the attached hotel. The club’s proposal for regular-season play, which had the support of the municipal government in Toronto and the province of Ontario, called for visiting teams to follow that same protocol with advanced testing.

Now, the Blue Jays are faced with even more uncertainty with Opening Day looming on July 24 and their home opener -- wherever home might be -- on July 29 against the Nationals.

“Dunedin is the only one that is 100 percent seamless right now and ready to go. That, from a player health standpoint, has some challenges,” Shapiro said. “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.”

Differing trends in COVID-19 transmission are a major factor and were a driving force behind the club’s desire to play in Toronto, where numbers are moving in a far more encouraging direction than Florida, the location of the Dunedin complex. That, along with other player and public health factors, will be considered in this process.

The challenges in Buffalo are those of infrastructure. The Blue Jays would need to supplement the stadium’s lighting to bring it up to Major League standards, and would need to “reimagine,” as Shapiro puts it, some of the stadium’s physical space. Other clubs have been doing this already, from auxiliary clubhouses or dugouts being added, to the use of concourse space, bleachers or suites for a variety of social distancing purposes. 

The list of potential alternatives doesn’t stop there, though. Shapiro added that the club will also consider other options “that may be better” when all factors are taken into account. There’s a clear sense of urgency from the Blue Jays at this point, but no hard deadline set for their decision. Once that’s decided, the final variable will be where the club’s player pool is based for its alternate training site.

That was expected to be Buffalo if the Blue Jays were based in Toronto, but now Shapiro expects that decision to depend on proximity to where they play their regular-season games. The likeliest outcome is that the Blue Jays use an American Minor League stadium or complex geographically close to their new regular-season home.