TORONTO – Major League Baseball’s hopes of staging a 2020 season in as many home cities as possible could force the Toronto Blue Jays to find an alternate home if pandemic border restrictions aren’t eased beforehand.
There’s still plenty of runway for rules on Canada-United States crossings to evolve based on how effectively COVID-19 is contained ahead of a potential July start in empty stadiums. Still, the only Canadian entry among the 30 teams in the majors is modelling out scenarios with home dates both in and outside of Toronto.
As things stand, games at Rogers Centre are off the table as long as the emergency order instituted March 24 under the Quarantine Act remains in place. That order stipulates that all travellers arriving in Canada must undergo screening by a border services or quarantine officer and then undergo 14 days of self-isolation if they have no symptoms, while travellers with symptoms must enter into a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The Blue Jays will hold themselves to the same standards as all other Canadians, which would leave them in need of a new home under current circumstances. The club’s spring facility in Dunedin, Fla., which was set to be the club’s home in 1995 when owners planned to open the season with replacement players amid an ongoing strike, is the most logical option.
Mark Shapiro, the club’s president and CEO, spoke recently with both Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor John Tory, who said Tuesday that the Blue Jays were “looking for some information at a very initial, preliminary level” about “possibly being in a position to play some games, whether it’s here or elsewhere.”
On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated that NHL players arriving in Canada from another country “will have to follow all the rules of quarantine in an extremely strict manner,” before adding that, “we’re not there yet in our discussions with the NHL.”
The border is but one challenge to Major League Baseball’s goal of starting out in as many of its locales as possible.
The remaining 29 teams are spread over 18 different states, each of which is subject to its own restrictions and pandemic trajectory. Some governors are all in, some are cautious and some aren’t interested until things stabilize further.
As a result, league-wide scenarios that include staging a season in a neutral-site combine environment or in collective hubs remain under consideration. Some of the health guidance baseball has been getting is that the fewer cities they are in, the better the chances of successfully staging a season without interruption.
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There are myriad issues to resolve well before potential travel restrictions come into play, too, with health protocols and what training/practice/competition looks like and how realistic the environments are in each market at the forefront.
Also on the table is the possibility Major League Baseball decides to have teams stage a shortened spring training in their home cities rather than in Florida/Arizona, using that as a way to ease the travel logistics on players.
The Blue Jays would likely hold camp in Dunedin regardless, mitigating against any possible border issues when play begins.
Once the border does reopen, expected advancements and the wide-scale deployments of rapid-result diagnostic testing could help eliminate the need for 14 days of self-isolation.
Potentially, that would allow the Blue Jays or another team unable to begin its season at home to make their way back. More effective and widespread testing will also be pivotal in avoiding an outbreak if a season does begin.
In the interim, Major League Baseball is closely watching how the Korean Baseball Organization’s launch plays out while closely tracking if the gradual re-openings of some states and the baby steps in Ontario lead to a new wave of coronavirus infections.