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Blue Jays considering a Dunedin home; MLS teams eye Tampa

With coronavirus travel restrictions forcing Canadian teams to relocate, Tampa Bay is a popular option.
The Blue Jays’ most workable option to start the major-league season in April still appears to be staying in Dunedin, where they have spring training, in recently upgraded facilities.
The Blue Jays’ most workable option to start the major-league season in April still appears to be staying in Dunedin, where they have spring training, in recently upgraded facilities. [ Times (2020) ]
Published Feb. 11
Updated Feb. 11

With the NBA’s Raptors announcing Thursday they will remain in Tampa to finish their season, MLB’s Blue Jays are still finalizing plans for where they will open theirs.

So are two of Canada’s Major League Soccer teams, Toronto FC and CF Montreal, with the possibility that all three could end up joining the Raptors in making their temporary home in the Tampa Bay area.

The teams need to relocate due to coronavirus travel restrictions that have and for the immediate future continue to prohibit them from playing in Canada.

The Jays’ most workable option appears to be opening the regular season in April in Dunedin, where they will train this spring in recently upgraded facilities. The team has already had at least preliminary talks with Dunedin officials about doing so.

The two soccer teams are involved in discussions about playing at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, though it is not clear if the two would share the facility or only one would relocate. Other sites in the southern and northeast United States are also being considered.

“(Tampa) is one of the areas we’re looking at, certainly,” Toronto FC president Bill Manning told the Toronto Sun. “I spoke to (Raptors president) Masai Ujiri just to see how he was doing down in Tampa and what they have been experiencing and what they’ve been doing.

“His people and my people are actually connecting, and they’ve done a few different things with the team, which has been really cool in terms of some functions outside of training and so on. We’re going to take some notes on what they’re doing.”

The MLS season is slated to start in mid-April and could run until November, which could create scheduling conflicts with the Bucs and USF football teams if the soccer team(s) was still here. St. Petersburg’s Al Lang Stadium, which hosts the USL’s Rowdies, is said to not be up to MLS standards.

The situation with the Jays is further advanced. Their other option appears to be returning to Buffalo, the site of their Triple-A team, where they played most of their home games last season.

But that was starting in August and with no scheduling conflicts, since the minor-league season was canceled. The Triple-A Bison are expected to be playing this year starting sometime in April when average temperatures in Buffalo are in the 40s.

Blue Jays officials have said they are hoping to return to Toronto at some point during the season but are working on other options.

“We have contingency plans that we’ve worked on and we will have timelines that we communicate with our players and feel good about our alternatives, feel good about the contingencies,” general manager Ross Atkins said last week on a media Zoom call. “But can’t wait for that day that we’re playing in Toronto again.”

The Jays will need approval from Major League Baseball and the players union to make the shift. They do have a Class A team slated to play at TD Ballpark, but when there is a conflict the minor-league team could play at the nearby training facility.

The Jays are currently scheduled for their home opener on April 8, with a four-game series against Joe Maddon’s Angels followed by a visit from the Yankees. The next homestands are April 27-May 2 against the Nationals and Braves, and May 14-24 against the Phillies, Red Sox and Rays.

The Raptors initially committed to playing in Tampa for the first half of their home schedule, which ran through early March. With travel restrictions, which require quarantines for people going into Canada, not easing, they said Thursday they will be sticking around, with the regular season running through mid-May, and playoffs to follow.

Staff writer John Romano contributed to this report.