Blue Jays gather in Dunedin while awaiting approval for Toronto camp


Construction workers walk past the main entrance to the TD Ballpark, the Florida home of Toronto Blue Jays, as they get the stadium ready in Dunedin, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020. (Steve Nesius / CP)

TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays shifted plans Monday amid the ongoing wait for Canadian government approval of a Rogers Centre training camp, instructing players to gather in Dunedin, Fla., so the club can begin its MLB-mandated intake process.

Word of the change emerged hours after Ontario Premier Doug Ford said federal, provincial and municipal health officials had essentially approved the team’s modified quarantine proposal, but that “a letter of support from the federal government” was still needed.

Minus that piece and with the July 1 report date creeping closer and closer, the Blue Jays pushed back a chartered flight from Florida tentatively slated for Wednesday to Saturday, and set in motion plans for the intake process called for in the 2020 Operations Manual.

The adjustments positioned the Blue Jays to be ready for any eventuality without sacrificing valuable workout time hanging in limbo, a growing concern for players.

“Upon the conclusion of intake and isolation, the team will either board a charter flight to Toronto to begin training under a modified quarantine, isolated from the general public, or remain in Florida to conduct training,” the club said in a statement. “The Blue Jays are hopeful to stage training camp and play regular season home games in Toronto and will continue to work through this possibility.”

Reasons for the delay weren’t immediately clear, although the arrival of players who have been tested on a single charter flight is likely preferable to the government over a piecemeal arrival of players from multiple locales in the United States.

The chaos only added to the stress on players and staff, some of whom had flights to Toronto booked for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, while others worried about going to Florida, where cases of COVID-19 continue to rise sharply.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Underlining the club’s preparations on parallel tracks, a shipping truck was loaded up during the day and sat idly at the club’s Dunedin facility awaiting the green light to head north, while at night the recently upgraded TD Ballpark lights were adjusted to optimally illuminate the field.

Under the Operations Manual, upon arrival at training camp players must first complete a pre-screening symptom and exposure questionnaire, followed by an intake screening 48-72 hours before the July 1 report date.

During that process, players undergo mandatory temperature checks with a contactless thermometer, diagnostic/PCR testing and serology/antibody testing.

Players are then to self-isolate for 24-48 hours while the results are returned, with those who test negative cleared to enter spring training and anyone who tests positive instructed to remain in isolation while being treated under the MLB protocol.

In theory, this would also allow the Blue Jays to weed out any COVID-19 carriers before entering Canada, proceeding to meet the requirements of the mandatory 14-day quarantine for arriving travellers as part of a bubble extended to include the Rogers Centre field and the hotel attached to the dome.

Ford, speaking during his daily media briefing, said he had been in contact with Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro throughout the weekend and added that, “I know all the municipal, provincial and federal health folks kind of gave their approval.”

“I know there are a few tweaks here in the province that Dr. (David) Williams (the province’s chief health officer) wants to work out with them,” he continued. “But we have to wait for approval on the federal government on the quarantine side of things.”

With the coronavirus spread largely under control in Canada, public health officials are preaching an abundance of caution amid a staged reopening to avoid a resurgence akin to the one being experienced in parts of the United States.

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