The Canadian government on Saturday rejected the Toronto Blue Jays’ plan to play home games in the city when MLB launches its 2020 season on Thursday.
While the government allowed the Blue Jays to hold training camp at the downtown Rogers Centre during the COVID-19 pandemic without the normal 14-day quarantine for players entering Canada, the team’s request to have a similar setup for the 60-game season was refused.
Marco Mendicino, Canada’s minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, said 30 home games would be considerably riskier than training camp.
“Unlike preseason training, regular-season games would require repeated cross-border travel of Blue Jays players and staff, as well as opposition teams into and out of Canada,” Mendicino said in a statement.
“Of particular concern, the Blue Jays would be required to play in US locations where the risk of virus transmission remains high. 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 MLB’s regular season at this time.”
The Blue Jays are the lone MLB franchise located outside the United States.
“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.”
The club hasn’t yet named an alternate “home” venue, but before the decision by the government was announced, the Blue Jays said their spring-training facility in Dunedin, Florida, would be their most likely choice if they couldn’t play in Toronto.
However, COVID-19 has hit Florida hard in recent weeks, with some calling the state the new epicenter of the virus.
The Buffalo News reported last week that the Blue Jays had reached out to the owners of their triple-A team in Buffalo, New York, to discuss the possible use of Sahlen Field in the city, which is just 30 kilometers from the Canada-US border.
The Blue Jays open their season at Tampa Bay on Thursday. Their 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.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said on 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.
Meanwhile, Oakland A’s All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman thinks the sound of silence could be an advantage when MLB starts play.
Chapman told the San Francisco Chronicle on the weekend that playing games without fans in the stands might be good for the A’s, who have grown accustomed to that atmosphere at typically half-empty Oakland Coliseum.
Asked about playing in front of empty seats during the pandemic, Chapman said: “I think it’s going to play to our advantage because a lot of our games are pretty quiet in general. We’re used to not having too many fans watch us.
“I think other teams coming in and seeing no fans and a big huge empty stadium and it might be a little cold at night, it plays to our advantage. We’re used to playing there. We’re used to playing in front of small crowds.”
The A’s averaged 20,521 fans for home games last season-about 44 percent of the ballpark’s capacity. The team posted MLB’s fourth best home record at 52-28 while going 45-36 on the road.
In 2018, Oakland averaged 19,427 fans per home game. Only the Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays have averaged smaller crowds over the past two seasons.