TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays will play their first two homestands of the regular season at their spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida, because of Canadian government restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made. A second person, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Blue Jays planned to make the announcement on Thursday morning.
After starting the season with three-game series at the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, Toronto’s schedule has a homestand with four games against the Los Angeles Angels from April 8-11 and the Yankees from April 12-14.
The Blue Jays follow with a trip to Kansas City, Boston and Tampa Bay, then have home games against Washington on April 27-28 and Atlanta from April 30 to May 2. That is followed by a 10-game trip to Oakland, Houston and Atlanta.
It remains unlikely they would gain approval to play May games in Toronto. A return home in the second half may be more realistic, after players and large segments of the population in the U.S. and Canada are vaccinated.
The TD Ballpark in Dunedin has a capacity of about 8,500. It opened in 1990 as Dunedin Stadium, built on the site of old Grant Field. The ballpark, known as Knology Park from 2004–08 and Florida Auto Exchange Stadium from 2010–17, had a major renovation in 2019-20.
Toronto last played at 49,000-capacity Rogers Centre on Sept. 29, 2019, an 8-3 win over Tampa Bay.
The Blue Jays played home games during the shortened 2020 season in Buffalo, New York, and were 17-9 at Sahlen Field, home of their Buffalo Bisons Triple-A farm team. The Canadian government didn’t allow the team to play at home because of the risk of spreading COVID-19 due to frequent travel required during a baseball season.
Last year’s Major League Baseball regular season was played without fans.
The border remains closed to nonessential travellers who are not Canadian citizens; Canada requires those entering the country to isolate for 14 days. And starting Monday, air travellers who arrive in Canada will be forced to quarantine in a hotel for up to three nights as they await the result of a coronavirus test.
Ongoing challenges with the pandemic and how that affects the process of crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada will also keep the Toronto Raptors in their adopted Tampa, Florida, home for the remainder of the regular season, the NBA team said last week.
The Blue Jays went went 32-28 last season, finishing third in the AL East behind Tampa Bay and the Yankees and qualifying for the expanded 16-team post-season. The Blue Jays were swept in two games by the AL champion Rays in a first-round series.
Toronto has been among the busiest teams on the free-agent market, agreeing to a $150 million, six-year contract with outfielder George Springer; an $18 million, one-year contract with shortstop Marcus Semien; a $5.5 million, one-year deal with right-hander Kirby Yates; a $3 million, one-year contract with right-hander Tyler Chatwood and a $1.75 million, one-year contract with right-hander David Phelps.
The Blue Jays also re-signed left-hander Robbie Ray to an $8 million, one-year contract.
Blum reported from New York.
Rob Gillies And Ronald Blum, The Associated Press