The Blue Jays can’t play home games in Toronto this season after the federal government rejected the club’s plan to use Rogers Centre on Saturday.
While the government gave the green light to the Blue Jays to hold training camp at their downtown facility during the COVID-19 pandemic without the normal 14-day quarantine for those entering Canada, Ottawa said no to a request to have a similar setup for Canada’s lone Major League Baseball team and visiting teams for regular-season play.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino said holding games would be riskier than training camp.
“However, unlike pre-season training, regular-season games would require repeated cross-border travel of Blue Jays players and staff, as well as opponent teams into and out of Canada. Of particular concern, the Toronto Blue Jays would be required to play in locations where the risk of virus transmission remains high,” Mendicino said in a statement.
“Based on the best-available public health advice, we have concluded the cross-border travel required for MLB regular season play would not adequately protect Canadians’ health and safety. As a result, Canada will not be issuing a National Interest Exemption for the MLB’s regular season at this time.”
Blue Jays team president and CEO Mark Shapiro said in a statement he accepted the federal government’s decision.
“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,” said Shapiro.
“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 will be the lone MLB team not to be playing in their usual home stadium during the 60-game season, which starts next week.
The club said on Saturday afternoon it was in the process of finalizing its alternate home ballpark. Before the federal government’s decision the Blue Jays said their spring-training facility in Dunedin, Fla., was their most likely venue for games if they couldn’t play in Toronto.
However, COVID-19 has hit Florida hard in recent weeks, with some calling the state the new epicentre of the virus.
The Buffalo News reported last week that the Blue Jays have reached out to the owners of their triple-A team in Buffalo, N.Y., to discuss the possible use of Sahlen Field.
The Blue Jays open their season July 24 at Tampa Bay. The home opener is July 29 against Washington.
Mendicino said the government remains open to discussion for playoff games at Rogers Centre if the risk of virus transmission diminishes.
“Canada has been able to flatten the curve in large part because of the sacrifices Canadians have made,” Mendicino said. “We understand professional sports are important to the economy and to Canadians. At the same time, our government will continue to take decisions at the border on the basis of the advice of our health experts in order to protect the health and safety of all Canadians.”
Ottawa turned down the Blue Jays’ plan, despite the fact Ontario approved it earlier this week.
“Our government’s number one priority will always be the health and well-being of Ontarians,” Ivana Yelich, Premier Doug Ford’s spokeswoman, said in an email.
“Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health approved the safest plan possible in the event Major League Baseball (was) permitted to play regular season games in Toronto. We support the federal government’s decision not to allow cross-border travel at this time as we continue to fight to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Ontario and across Canada.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory said he understood the decision.
“All governments worked well together to try to reach a positive answer on this but we all knew there was no easy answer notwithstanding the incredibly detailed protocols put forward by everyone associated with the Blue Jays and Major League Baseball,” Tory said in a statement.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said Friday that the government preferred the NHL’s plan, which will see all teams gather in hubs in Edmonton and Toronto later this month and not leave until their respective seasons come to an end.
There was internal controversy during the first week of training camp, with Blue Jays infielder Travis Shaw eventually apologizing for a series of tweets where he criticized COVID-19 rules and the team’s plan to enforce a closed environment at Rogers Centre and adjoining hotel for the season.
Shaw told reporters on a Zoom conference call that he was “a little tone deaf” with the tweets that were “out of frustration.”