TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays, displaced once again by pandemic border restrictions, will open the 2021 season at their spring home in Dunedin, Fla., the club announced Thursday morning.
An internal email Wednesday informed staffers of the decision ahead of the team's first official spring workout for pitchers and catchers on Thursday.
For now, the shift to TD Ballpark covers homestands April 8-14 against the Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees and April 27-May 2 versus the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves. Similar to the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, who are playing out of nearby Tampa, the Blue Jays will wait to determine the status of the May 14-24 series with Philadelphia, Boston and Tampa Bay and beyond, in the hopes the border opens up and allows for a return to Rogers Centre in Toronto.
The Blue Jays said Thursday they will host a limited number of fans (15 per cent capacity) for the games at TD Ballpark.
"Next to the health and safety of our fans, players and staff, the Blue Jays’ top priority is returning home to play on Canadian soil as soon as it is safe to do so," a statement from the team read.
"The club has been actively working through plans for what a safe return to Rogers Centre could look like, while also scenario planning alternatives."
Settling on a temporary home, at least for the early portion of the schedule, allows the Blue Jays to avoid the type of chaotic scramble that preceded the decision to spend the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign at Buffalo’s Sahlen Field.
The Blue Jays went 17-9 at the home of their triple-A affiliate after an extensive remodelling of the facility to accommodate the COVID-19 health and safety protocols, as well as the day-to-day needs of major-league teams.
The changes at Sahlen Field included renovations to locker-rooms, dining rooms, bathrooms and weight rooms, including a temporary new visitors' clubhouse down the right field line. Lighting upgrades were also necessary to ensure visibility for players and maximize broadcast quality.
Those changes were implemented in about two weeks after the club heard it would not obtain the necessary governmental permissions to play in Canada, and attempts to play in Pittsburgh and Baltimore were shot down.
The Blue Jays had initially planned to remain at TD Ballpark last year, investing $600,000 to bring the lights up to major-league standards and make other upgrades, but looked elsewhere amid a surge of coronavirus infections in the state.
Last week, the team announced it will sell tickets up to 15 per cent of capacity for Grapefruit League home games. Additional protocols for those attending included tickets sold in pods of two or four seats, face coverings for entry, symptom screening and hand sanitizing stations.