Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced on Saturday that the Toronto Blue Jays’ request for a National Interest Exemption (to the 14-day self-isolation period required of any person entering the country for non-essential reasons) was denied. The federal government declared the repeated “cross-border travel required for MLB regular-season play would not adequately protect Canadians’ health and safety.” The binding decision means that the AL East club—unable to play games at Rogers Centre for the foreseeable future—will need to find a new home fast; their season begins on Friday night (the team’s home opener is scheduled for July 29). Buffalo (home of the organization’s AAA team); Dunedin, Fla. (the team’s spring training home); and Pittsburgh (PNC Park) have all been mentioned as potentially viable locales for the club to play out the abbreviated 2020 season.
Our Take: As the U.S. continues to post record highs in the number of coronavirus cases daily, Canada has flattened its curve, so on the surface the Canadian government’s decision to prevent those visiting/living in North American hot spots from entering the country—without spending time in self-quarantine upon arrival—sounds logical. But a pair of high-ranking MLB club executives (one a team owner, the other a team president) say the move is politically motivated and lacking common sense—at least if one looks at the testing results. The team owner explained that “over the last week, just .05% of players tested positive; [the league] went six days without a positive test. The model we built [to keep the players healthy]—with enormous investment—is working.” The team president we spoke to agreed and insisted that with the “sophisticated, intense protocols” in place, cross-border travel “could have been handled safely.” Of course, the league will learn a lot more about the efficacy of their health and safety measures over the next 10 days as clubs are now regularly traveling on the road.
The Blue Jays were surprised by the Canadian government’s denial, especially since both the city and provincial government signed off on the club playing home in Toronto. The club president we spoke to suggested the decision—which has forced the team to scramble for a new home at the last minute—will have “far reaching consequences for sports in Toronto. If you’re the NFL, you’re not going to Toronto after [the Canadian government left the team in a lurch].” Of course, the weak Canadian dollar (and existence of the CFL) was likely going to prevent that from happening—at least in the short-term—anyway.
From a proximity standpoint, Buffalo certainly makes sense as a temporary relocation destination—and the baseball venue in the city has the largest capacity in the minor leagues. But Sahlen Field needs work (think: clubhouse, lighting), and “the players don’t want to play 30 games—the entirety of their home schedule—in a setting that isn’t up to Major League standards.” The owner we spoke to was adamant that despite rumors to the contrary, the Jays “are not going to go to Buffalo. That [simply] isn’t going to happen.” It should be noted the club is operating under the pretense that there will not be in fans in attendance at games this year, so the size of the stadium in Buffalo is a non-factor.
While the Jays’ spring training site in Dunedin has a major league clubhouse and the venue would appeal to the players from a familiarity standpoint, it’s believed that weather—not Coronavirus—is going to prevent the team’s relocation to Florida. Our ownership source explained that the heat, combined with the constant threat of rain (and thus rainouts) in the summer months, makes the option less than ideal (even without an outbreak going on). Remember, unlike the major league parks in Miami and Tampa there is no roof on the Dunedin spring training venue.
The club owner we spoke to said it’s been decided the Blue Jays will play their games as the second club in another “eastern major league city; or if one can’t accommodate them for all of the games (due to scheduling constraints), then possibly in [two major league markets].” What remains less clear is where the team will play. Our team president source confirmed the rumors the team has been talking to Pittsburgh and said that Washington is also a possibility “because when the Blue Jays are scheduled to be at home, [those two teams are] largely on the road and vice versa.”
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