The Blue Jays are making contingency plans in the event the Canadian government prevents them from playing home games in Toronto at the start of the 2021 MLB season because of COVID-19 concerns.
The Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday that the club is looking at its spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla., as a possible alternate site and that the Jays and Dunedin officials have held preliminary discussions about holding regular-season games at TD Ballpark.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Jan. 12 that the Canada-U.S. border would remain closed to nonessential travel through at least Feb. 21, and on Jan. 16 Ontario extended emergency measures within the province through Feb. 19 as the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase.
“We would welcome the opportunity if they were to open their season here,” Vince Gizzi, Dunedin’s parks and recreation director, told the Times. “It would just be wonderful for our city, if they were restricted from going in and out of Canada, that they could play here.”
The Jays were forced to play their entire 60-game schedule last year in the U.S. after Canada prohibited them from playing at Rogers Centre amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The team played its home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., the home of its Triple-A minor league affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, beginning in mid-August. The Bisons’ 2020 season had already been canceled, making the stadium available to the Jays full time.
The Bisons are scheduled to resume playing there next spring, although the exact opening date is unclear because MLB is still deciding when to begin the 2021 minor league season.
Dunedin is also home to Toronto’s affiliate in the Single-A Florida State League, but the Times speculated that any scheduling conflicts could be resolved by having the minor league team play on one of the fields adjacent to the stadium inside the Jays’ complex. The parent club’s home opener is scheduled for April 8.
The Times noted that MLB and the MLB Players Association would have to approve moving games outside Toronto.
The NBA’s Raptors are dealing with a similar prohibition. They’ve moved their home games this season to Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., home of the NHL’s Lightning. Dunedin is about 30 minutes west of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
The Maple Leafs are playing their home games at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto but are not scheduled to leave Canada in the regular season. The NHL placed all seven of its Canadian teams in one division for the 2021 season and are having them play just each other, with games taking place entirely within Canada.