Blue Jays can’t play games in Canada because of pandemic

The Toronto Blue Jays at batting practice earlier this month at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

By Tyler Kepner

Major League Baseball’s plan to use all 30 home ballparks for a shortened, 60-game season met an immovable obstacle Saturday: the Canadian government. The Toronto Blue Jays, the only team in the league that is based outside the United States, will not be allowed to stage home games during the coronavirus pandemic.

Marco Mendicino, Canada’s immigration minister, announced Saturday that the government had turned down the Blue Jays’ request to play at Rogers Centre, where their first game had been scheduled for July 29 against the Washington Nationals.

The Blue Jays have been training at home this month and had gotten permission from the city of Toronto and the province of Ontario to play games there. But the federal government ruled that the travel required to host 10 series involving eight visiting teams was not worth the risk.

“Unlike preseason 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,” Mendicino said in a statement. “Of particular concern, the Toronto Blue Jays would be required to play in locations where the risk of virus transmission remains high.”

He continued: “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.”

In a statement, the Blue Jays said they were “in the process of finalizing the best home location,” without specifying where that would be.

“The team completely respects the federal government’s decision,” Mark Shapiro, the Blue Jays’ president and chief executive, 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.”

An official with knowledge of the Blue Jays’ plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the team, said the likely destination would be Buffalo, nearly a two-hour drive south and home of the Blue Jays’ Class AAA team.

“As Mayor of Buffalo,” the city’s mayor, Byron Brown, wrote on Twitter, “I would love to see the @BlueJays play at Sahlen Field.”

The Blue Jays’ spring training complex in Dunedin, Fla., is a less likely landing spot because of the surge in coronavirus cases in Florida. MLB already has two teams in Florida — the Miami Marlins and the Tampa Bay Rays — but they have been training there all month, and it would seem unwise to ask a whole new group of players to relocate to a virus hot spot.

Sahlen Field in Buffalo — named for a local meatpacking company — opened in 1988 with hopes of landing an expansion team or luring an existing team to town. The ballpark added a $1 million lighting system in 2011, according to The Buffalo News, but that was before advancements in LED lighting that a major league team might require.

There are two other Class AAA parks in upstate New York, in Rochester and Syracuse, and the Blue Jays’ Class AA team plays in Manchester, N.H., in a state that has never hosted a major league game. The closest major league facility to Toronto is Comerica Park in Detroit — although the Tigers, of course, will be playing games there.

Asking the Blue Jays to play all 60 games on the road would seem impractical, especially considering the health risks of so much extra travel. If Buffalo becomes their temporary home, it would give the state of New York three home teams — for one mini-season, anyway — for the first time since 1957, when the Giants and the Dodgers fled to California and left the Yankees alone in New York.

Teams have been forced out of their home ballparks before. Miller Park in Milwaukee was a temporary home for the Cleveland Indians in 2007 and the Houston Astros in 2008 because of weather in those cities.

In 1991, the Montreal Expos shifted their final 13 home games to opponents’ parks after a 55-ton chunk of concrete fell at Olympic Stadium. Three years later, the Seattle Mariners ended their season with a 20-game road trip after ceiling tiles fell from the Kingdome roof. In 1998, the Yankees moved a home game to Shea Stadium after a concrete-and-steel beam fell into the loge-level seats at Yankee Stadium before a game with the Angels.

Buffalo had a National League franchise, the Bisons, from 1879 through 1885, with Hall of Fame pitcher Pud Galvin the team’s biggest star. To signify how much baseball has changed since then, consider that Galvin won 46 games while pitching more than 600 innings in 1883 — and then did it again the next year.

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