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.”
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.
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.
The club hasn’t named its home venue for 2020 yet. Before the decision by the government, 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.
The federal government allowed the Blue Jays to come to Toronto a few days into training camp, waiving the quarantine rule after the club agreed to be restricted to a hotel inside Rogers Centre when not in the actual stadium.
But with regular travel between the harder-hit United States and Canada during the season for the Blue Jays and other teams during the season, the government had an extra layer to consider before making its decision.
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.”