DUNEDIN, Fla. – Don’t expect the Toronto Blue Jays to feel much sympathy for those around the majors expressing “concern” over Canadian border rules restricting entry to unvaccinated travellers.
Forced to play the entire 2020 season at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., home of their triple-A affiliate, and then moving from Dunedin, Fla., to Buffalo to Toronto during a nomadic 2021, they’ve more than endured their share of COVID-19 caused disruption.
So while the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox called border restrictions “a concern,” and others suggested the Blue Jays may have a competitive advantage as teams are prevented from fielding their best rosters, manager Charlie Montoyo said Monday that, “I don’t see it like that.”
“The rules are the rules and we follow them like everybody else,” he continued. “That’s how I see it. We followed them last year, didn’t we?”
Editor's Note: The COVID-19 situation, in sports and around the world, is constantly evolving. Readers in Canada can consult the country's public health website for the latest.
For the past two years, actually, from the last-minute rejection of a modified-cohort quarantine plan in 2020 that triggered a furious scramble to find refuge to the lengthy process that preceded their return to Toronto last July 30.
Free of the stress created by the constant uncertainty of the past two years, the Blue Jays are now seeing rivals forced to cope with the type of disruptive COVID-19 limitations all too familiar to them.
Montoyo feels his players “don’t get enough credit for what we did (while) not knowing where we're going to play, playing in Dunedin and then to Buffalo.”
“When you think about it, you've got to move families, you've got to get new apartments and all that stuff,” he added. “I don't think they get enough credit, our players. They never complained and that's why we almost made it to the playoffs and won 91 games.”
The border rules shouldn’t be a surprise to any club, as the federal government announced Nov. 19 that as of Jan. 15 all travellers that had been exempt from entry requirements would only be allowed to enter the country if fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Professional and amateur athletes” are listed clearly among them.
A new wrinkle came amid discussions on the new collective bargaining agreement, when the sides decided that unvaccinated players ineligible to enter the country would be placed on the restricted list, losing both pay and service time.
That brought the issue to light for players, who discussed the matter at length before voting on the new CBA, according to an industry source.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters Sunday that “it will be interesting, to say the least, how that situation unfolds.”
“I think we still have a few guys at least that aren't vaccinated, so we'll be monitoring that situation closely and see how that plays out,” he added. “But yeah, it’s a concern.”
Similar sentiments came from the Red Sox, who also have several unvaccinated players.
“Anything that could keep players off the field is a concern,” baseball head Chaim Bloom told Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy via text message.
“Since we’re just now reconnecting with our new players and understanding the new CBA, we haven’t addressed this specific issue yet. We continue to be strong advocates of vaccination for anyone who’s eligible.”
The issue is not unique to baseball as the rules apply to all but a select few categories of travellers, and neither the NHL nor NBA have any special exemption. The Brooklyn Nets, for instance, would be without Kyrie Irving for playoff games in Toronto if they face the Raptors.
The Blue Jays only managed to return last year thanks to a National Interest Exemption that included a modified-cohort quarantine plan that limited unvaccinated players to their home/hotel and the ballpark.
They don’t have any worries about the rules impacting their current roster but vaccination status is a factor in their pursuit of players.