TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays were left scrambling after their regular-season plan was rejected by a government for the second time in five days, as the Pennsylvania Department of Health turned down their plan to share PNC Park with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday.
An agreement between the teams to share the picturesque stadium was locked down late Tuesday night, but was pending clearance from local and state officials. But much like Canadian federal government, which on Saturday denied a proposal for staging games at Rogers Centre, the state’s health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, found too much risk in the idea.
“To add travellers to this region for any reason, including for professional sports events, risks residents, visitors and members of both teams,” she said in a statement to Will Graves of The Associated Press.
The decision delivered another massive blow to a Blue Jays organization that had been trying to regain equilibrium after the Toronto plan that had been its sole focus fell apart.
Where the Blue Jays go from here is unclear – they had also been exploring a split of Camden Yards with the Baltimore Orioles, and Buffalo’s Sahlen Field has been their reluctant, if-all-else-fails backup – but their plight underlines the challenges of staging a season amid a pandemic.
Everything right now is in the mix.
Nothing has been easy for the major leagues’ only Canadian club, which started its summer camp late while it awaited governmental approval to train in Toronto, and then had to work through player discomfort over the possibility of a summer quarantine before their regular-season plan was quashed.
The Pirates offered them a lifeline, and are said to have gone over and above in their efforts to help out the Blue Jays. That GM Ben Cherington and AGM Steve Sanders were lured over from Toronto during the off-season surely helped, although in a statement released Monday, president Travis Williams said, “leaning in to help others is what Pittsburghers do best.”
If the logistical issues can be cleared up – and they are plentiful at any big-league park – the Orioles home schedule matches up well with the Blue Jays home schedule. The only conflicts are July 29-Aug. 2 and Aug 14-16, but figuring out where to set up an alternative clubhouse, where to locate the clubs and ensuring all protocols are followed requires time that no one has.
ESPN’s Buster Olney was the first to suggest that the Blue Jays play their entire home schedule as the host team at the stadium of their opponent, but that would turn the season into a 60-day road trip.
If that were the case, the Blue Jays would never be in one spot for more than four days until Sept. 7-17, when they are set to host the Yankees and Mets and visit the Yankees.
During their initial exploratory work, the Blue Jays also looked into bouncing between Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, although a multi-stadium plan is less ideal because it means more temporary elements such as third clubhouses are needed.
Similarly, Buffalo’s Sahlen Field is also substandard when compared to big-league facilities and would need sizable infrastructure investments to bring the lighting, clubhouses and training areas up to par, and protocol compliant.