TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays will begin the 2021 regular season playing home games in Dunedin, Fla., because of border restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement Thursday morning, the Blue Jays said they have made “the difficult decision” to play their first two homestands at TD Ballpark, with the hopes of a return to play at Rogers Centre “as soon as possible.”
Team president Mark Shapiro was expected to provide more details on a conference call Thursday morning.
The finale of the Blue Jays’ second homestand is a May 2 game against Atlanta. The team will then head out on a 10-game road trip before a May 14 home game against Philadelphia.
It marks the second year in a row Toronto will have to play home games away from Rogers Centre.
Last year, the Blue Jays played most of their home games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., after the shortened season began in July.
“Next to the health and safety of our fans, players, and staff, the Blue Jays’ top priority is returning home to play on Canadian soil as soon as it is safe to do so,” the club said in a statement. “The club has been actively working through plans for what a safe return to Rogers Centre could look like, while also scenario planning alternatives.
“The Blue Jays will re-evaluate the situation and those circumstances will dictate next steps following the first two homestands.
“We want to thank all Canadians for everything they have done to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. It is through these efforts that we can hope for warm summer nights under the open Rogers Centre roof, as your Toronto Blue Jays push for the post-season.”
Dunedin has been the Blue Jays’ spring-training home since the team’s inception in 1977. TD Ballpark, renovated in 2019, seats 8,500, up about 3,000 from its previous capacity.
The border remains closed to non-essential travellers who are not Canadian citizens, making it difficult to predict when the Blue Jays might gain approval to play games in Toronto.
With the 162-game 2021 season starting in April and minor-league baseball expected to resume in Buffalo this year after the 2020 campaign was scrapped, Dunedin became the logical choice for the Blue Jays.
The team has full training facilities in Dunedin and its players are used to the area. Similar to spring training, the Blue Jays will host fans in a limited 15 per cent capacity at TD Ballpark.
Toronto posted a 32-28 record last season and was swept in the wild-card playoff round by Tampa Bay.
The Blue Jays were one of the more active teams on the free-agent front this off-season. The biggest splash was Toronto’s six-year, US$150-million deal with outfielder George Springer.
The Blue Jays will join the Toronto Raptors in the Tampa area. The Raptors are playing their home games at Tampa’s Amalie Arena, about 40 kilometres west of TD Ballpark.
Along with getting Blue Jays and Raptors home games, the Tampa area also has seen the NHL’s Lightning and NFL’s Buccaneers win their respective titles and MLB’s Rays advance to the World Series in the past year.
Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC (East Hartford, Conn.), CF Montreal (Harrison, N.J.) and Vancouver Whitecaps (Portland) also had to relocate to the U.S. for part of the 2020 season, while Major League Rugby’s Toronto Arrows are slated to start the 2021 season in Marietta, Ga.
The NHL has avoided border restrictions by placing all seven Canadian teams in the North Division this season. All games are played against division opponents.
The Blue Jays open their season April 1 in New York against the Yankees. Their home opener is April 8 versus the Los Angeles Angels.
© 2021 The Canadian Press