TORONTO -- Team president Mark Shapiro believes the Blue Jays are on the verge of building the best training facility in Major League Baseball with a series of renovations set to be complete by spring of 2020.Toronto officially unveiled its plans for a major renovation of the club's Spring Training
TORONTO -- Team president Mark Shapiro believes the Blue Jays are on the verge of building the best training facility in Major League Baseball with a series of renovations set to be complete by spring of 2020.
Toronto officially unveiled its plans for a major renovation of the club's Spring Training complex in Dunedin, Fla., on Wednesday afternoon. The approximately $80 million facelift will be split almost evenly between Dunedin Stadium and the Bobby Mattick Training Center and will come with a new 25-year lease.
The deal marks the end of a complicated negotiating process with the state of Florida, Pinellas County and the city of Dunedin. The Blue Jays had been working under a temporary lease for the last couple of years while plans for a deal were being finalized, and they can now say that they won't be moving from the only Florida home they've known.
"I really believe that we'll have the single best training center the day our facility is done," Shapiro said during a media availability at Rogers Centre. "I think our training center, albeit not in the amount of real estate, it'll be pretty condensed and pretty close together [compared to others], but I think overall we're going to have the best all-around facility in Major League Baseball when this is done."
The most noticeable changes for fans will be the renovations to Dunedin Stadium, where the Blue Jays host their Grapefruit League games. The dated ballpark will receive a much-needed facelift, but the most important aspect of the deal for the Blue Jays always centered around the Bobby Mattick Training Center.
The two facilities are located approximately 10 minutes away from each other. The initial goal was to have the stadium and training center in the same spot, but finding a suitable plot of land for such a large project in Dunedin proved impossible. As a result, both sides had to make some compromises to get a deal done and avoid relocation.
The city of Dunedin gave the Blue Jays three softball fields to expand the footprint of their current training center. Toronto had to accept the fact that its players will take a short bus ride to the stadium for home spring games. The deal isn't perfect, but it's far better than the current scenario, which sees Major League invitees spend the first two weeks of spring at the training center before moving over to the stadium.
In this new arrangement, the Major League and Minor League operations will move into one joint facility. The goal is to make this a year-round destination for rehabbing players, offseason workouts and all aspects of Major League Spring Training.
"This is one of the rare spots in Spring Training where there is affordable housing," Shapiro said. "Whether you're a trainer making $60,000 a year, whether you're a player making $6 million a year, there is attractive, affordable housing for players and staff of all economic bandwidths.
"So I think the goal will be, can we have a massive ... player development staff living there all year round, coming into our facility and helping our players develop all of the time -- on the strength side, on the training side and baseball side of things, nutrition, everything?"
Dunedin Stadium renovations will see capacity increased from approximately 5,500 to 8,500. The majority of those seats will be added down the left-field line with a small infield diamond and bullpen being removed in favor of a grandstand structure and bar area. Other features include a tiki bar in center field, a catwalk around the outfield portion of the stadium and an "Autograph Alley" located outside the Blue Jays clubhouse down the right-field line.
Construction on Dunedin Stadium will begin shortly after the Blue Jays wrap up 2019 Spring Training. Class A Advanced Dunedin, which uses the stadium as its home field during the Florida State League season, will be relocated to another part of the Central Florida area for the 2019 season while the construction is ongoing.
"It's a huge opportunity for us, from a cultural standpoint, to align the Major and Minor League side of our operation to put our players in a positive environment," Shapiro said. "Provide them with cutting edge resources and tools, equipment, opportunities for coaching that don't currently exist for us. Ultimately, everything is not just about getting caught up. I think in this case, we're going to be moving ahead. It's meant to be a competitive advantage. It's meant to lead to wins."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.