DUNEDIN, Fla. – Mark Shapiro envisions the next spring training home for the Toronto Blue Jays as a training and rehabilitation facility equipped with every piece of cutting-edge technology the modern athlete needs to succeed.
To that end, the president and CEO met with officials from Dunedin on Wednesday to discuss a new complex or a renovation of the team’s current sites.
The Blue Jays’ current venues at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and the Bobby Mattick Training Center lag far behind most, if not all other big-league clubs, and since taking over the Blue Jays in November, Shapiro has made finding an upgrade a priority. The club’s lease with Dunedin runs through 2017.
“There are realities that may be charming about our current situation, but that charm is not going to bring wins,” Shapiro said Thursday. “So we need to be in a situation where we modernize our facility and have the ability to ingrain a culture that’s player focussed and player centred. They understand that. They’ve been very receptive, and we’re going to have to work hard and work together to get that done, but I’m optimistic that will happen.”
The Atlanta Braves, currently situated some 90 minutes away at Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, are also looking for a new home, and many clubs have paired with other teams in recent years in developing new sites.
Under Shapiro’s leadership, the Cleveland Indians did precisely that with the Cincinnati Reds in Gilbert, Ariz. That’s an option for the Blue Jays, but right now the focus is on staying put.
“I’ve talked to (Braves president) John Schuerholz and I think right now we’re not searching,” said Shapiro. “Right now we’re trying to get a deal done with Dunedin. If it gets to a point where we’re searching, that search will be wide. We’d cast a net everywhere there would be and we’d look at all alternatives, but as of right now I think our best chance to get a deal done here is to focus on getting a deal done, singularly, and not to be out there simultaneously looking for alternatives.”
Shapiro believes an inviting facility that could serve as “a 365-day home” could provide the team with a “potential competitive advantage” that could help the Blue Jays develop a culture.
As things stand now, their spring stadium is small and dated with limited facilities, as is the Bobby Mattick Training Center, which is nearly six kilometres away.
“There are some logistical challenges we can certainly deal around, but it’s just modernization,” said Shapiro. “It’s thinking about the evolution of the game from a training and rehabilitation standpoint. The tools that allow players to both be on the field more frequently and to allow them to recover more effectively, to train in bigger volumes. You don’t want them to be crowded.
“To feed them in ways that you’ve got the best nutrition possible – every single aspect of the day allows opportunities for the player to make choices or decisions and us to provide resources to achieve their potential. And as you think about what a player does, from rest to recovery to training, to what he eats, those are all opportunities and a facility is really an infrastructure that fuels that.”