TORONTO -- The Blue Jays remain a team without a home on the eve of MLB’s Opening Day as the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced Wednesday it will not allow them to play out of Pittsburgh in a shared setup with the Pirates at PNC Park.
That arrangement, which had been agreed to by the clubs, was still pending state approval. This is similar to the Blue Jays’ recent efforts to stay in Toronto for the regular season, which were approved by the municipal and provincial governments before being denied by the federal government due to concerns about visiting teams coming in and out of the country.
"To add travelers to this region for any reason, including for professional sports events, risks residents, visitors and members of both teams,” Pennsylvania secretary of health Dr. Rachel Levine told The Associated Press in a statement.
Earlier this week, the Pirates issued a statement offering their cooperation to the Blue Jays, which they’d followed through on and were ready to act upon in sharing PNC Park, but the final call was always in the hands of the state.
“I am extremely proud of our staff’s effort, together with the support of Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, to very quickly present Major League Baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays with an option to host their home games here at PNC Park during the 2020 season," Pirates president Travis Williams said in another statement Wednesday. "This is an unprecedented situation and, therefore, we understand and support Governor Tom Wolf’s decision. We are in agreement that the safety and health of those in our region must remain paramount. We are confident that the great people within the Blue Jays organization, working with Major League Baseball, will secure another option very soon.”
This deepens an already difficult situation for the Blue Jays, who are left searching for a solution. Their home opener is scheduled for July 29, and while they have other options that they’ve already been working on, one of these options will need to morph into a solution very quickly.
One possibility could be sharing Oriole Park at Camden Yards, according to the Baltimore Sun, where the Blue Jays could play all of their games against one another and experience minimal overlap otherwise. Their two schedules would have conflicts on July 29 to Aug. 2 and Aug. 14-16, but the Blue Jays have already been exploring workarounds for these situations. Those solutions, which would require schedule adjustments, include flipping a home and visiting series with an opponent or simply going on the road for additional games, leaving them with just under 30 home games.
Another option remains Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., home of the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. The Blue Jays took Buffalo off the table much earlier in this process, when they’d shifted their focus entirely to Toronto and Dunedin, Fla., but it’s reemerged. Buffalo would require supplemental lighting and some reimagining of its limited physical space to allow for distancing in the clubhouses and during training.
Toronto’s player pool still needs an alternate training site, too. Club president Mark Shapiro said recently that the Blue Jays would choose a site geographically close to their regular-season home, likely an existing U.S. Minor League stadium, but that’s still on hold for now. If Pittsburgh had worked, that would have been Buffalo, but the players still in Toronto will remain here for the time being.
Blue Jays players, and their front office, have continued to make it clear that they prefer to play in a Major League stadium.