The Blue Jays could join the Raptors as Toronto teams making their temporary regular-season home in the Tampa Bay area.
If coronavirus travel restrictions prevent the Jays from returning home for the start of the major-league season in April, their most likely option appears to be playing at their spring training stadium in Dunedin.
In doing so, the Jays would have use of TD Ballpark stadium, which re-opened in spring 2020 after extensive upgrades, as well as their recently completed state-of-the-art player development center, which has major-league training, medical and conditioning facilities and equipment.
The team has had preliminary talks about the plan with Dunedin officials, and the city is eager to help out if needed.
“We would welcome the opportunity if they were to open their season here,” parks and recreation director Vince Gizzi said Wednesday. “It would just be wonderful for our city, if they were restricted from going in and out of Canada, that they could play here. ... We’d be excited to see that happen, especially in our newly renovated stadium.”
When the Jays were prohibited from playing in Toronto for the delayed 2020 season, they explored numerous options, including Dunedin, before deciding to play in Buffalo, N.Y., the site of their Triple-A team.
That move required considerable expense in relocating medical, training and clubhouse equipment to Buffalo, then back to Toronto. The Jays have all that equipment in Dunedin and wouldn’t need to move it twice, which makes for simpler logistics, especially if they are cleared to return home during the season. Plus, the full squad already will be together in Dunedin for spring training, which is slated to start on time in mid-February, and a number of players and staff have homes in the area.
Another factor is that the Triple-A team will be playing in Buffalo this year — there was no minor-league season in 2020. The Blue Jays do have a Class A team in Dunedin, but the lower-level minor-league seasons are expected to be delayed at least into May, and that team potentially could play during the day or at the training complex if there is a scheduling conflict.
Under a likely scenario, the Jays could do pre-game and conditioning work at the training facility, which is about a 10-minute drive away, then bus to the stadium for games. The visiting team would be able to use the weight room and batting cages at the stadium.
There is no set timetable, as the Jays want to explore and exhaust all options to play in Toronto, which would require federal and local permissions. That is complicated since it includes not just the Jays making frequent trips in and out of the country, but also allowing the visiting teams in without quarantining. With cases on the rise, Ontario just put a provincial emergency stay-at-home order in place.
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The Jays also may have to figure out if playing in Dunedin will work through the rainy and steamy summer months if they are not allowed back into Toronto at all.
If the Jays do opt to start the season in Dunedin, they would need permission from Major League Baseball and the players union. If/when that is in place, they would decide whether to allow fans at the games, with the home opener set for April 8 against Mike Trout and the rest of Joe Maddon’s Angels, with the Yankees to follow under the current schedule.
The Rays said last week they plan to host a limited number of fans, around 7,000, from the start of the season, though that is subject to change pending the status of the virus. Under a similarly distanced seating plan, the Jays likely could host around 1,500-2,000 a game.
The Raptors settled on Tampa as their temporary home and are committed to playing at Amalie Arena through March 5, with the opportunity to stay for the whole NBA season. The NHL teams are playing at their home rinks, but in realigned divisions with an all-Canadian one, with no travel to or from the United States.