DENVER – The Toronto Blue Jays are discussing with the players association a two-track plan for a Rogers Centre return in which fully vaccinated players are exempt from quarantine and unvaccinated players bubble while in the city, union head Tony Clark said Tuesday.
The split approach is part of a proposal to the federal government submitted roughly three weeks ago that has already won municipal and provincial approvals. The Blue Jays are hoping to receive a national interest exemption that would allow them to return home in time for the July 30 start of a crucial 10-game homestand that represents an eighth of their home schedule.
To make a move happen in time for that date, the Blue Jays would likely need some indication of the government’s decision by Friday. If they don’t get approval, their next target for a move north is the Aug. 20 start of a seven-game homestand versus the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox.
Sign-offs from the players association would be needed, but isn’t expected to be a major hurdle.
“We know there's a lot of dialogue going on with the government there in Canada and everything you just detailed are all the same things that are being shared with us and that are being discussed with our players,” Clark said in a brief interview after speaking at the BBWAA’s annual all-star meeting.
“For our guys, particularly the Blue Jays players, being able to have a semblance of normalcy, I think they're more than willing to have a conversation about what that protocol needs to look like in order for them to be at home, settled at home, playing at home. The opportunity to have teams come in, yeah it may mean to and from the hotel as a way to navigate, all of those things are on the table and guys are willing to discuss.”
A leading indicator may be the government’s looming decision on a pair of Major League Soccer games Toronto FC and CF Montreal hope to host in the country Saturday. The situations aren’t apple to apple, as the MLS clubs have fewer home dates remaining.
The Blue Jays are among the 23 teams above an 85 per cent threshold of vaccination for players, coaches and medical/training staff, and the overall MLB populace is above an 85 per cent rate of vaccination.
Clark said the players association isn’t pushing, but rather encouraging its reluctant members to get vaccinated and “players are becoming more comfortable as more data comes in.”
“That may continue,” he added. “But at the end of the day, the players have the ability to make that determination, a personal determination, for themselves.”
For his part, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred wouldn’t tip his hand as to whether he’d make mandatory vaccinations part of the current collective bargaining agreement talks, but did point out such a policy exists in his office.
“To date our conversations with the MLBPA haven't gotten us to that,” said Manfred. “I'm a believer in vaccination. I understand people have different views. I wish everybody would get vaccinated, I think would be a good thing for us generally. But you've got to work it through with the people that represent them.”
Should the Blue Jays return to Toronto, Ontario’s current pandemic rules would allow fans in the stands, something that’s been happening across the United States all season. Four teams are already across one million in attendance for the current season, with the Blue Jays at the very bottom with 151,213 fans between their 39 home dates in Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo.
“We will be, with the exception of getting Toronto from Buffalo back to Toronto, at 100 per cent capacity after the break,” said Manfred. “We’ve got strong demand for the product and we're really excited to have full capacity available for our fans.”
The Blue Jays will begin the second half at 45-42, eight games behind the AL-East leading Boston Red Sox and 4.5 games behind the Oakland Athletics for the second wild card.
If they can get to Rogers Centre in time for July 30 — they would play 35 of their remaining 42 home games, one will be part of a doubleheader at the Los Angeles Angels in which they’ll be the home side for the first game — having a home-field advantage could make a difference.
“We've got a chance to make the playoffs and we'd love to have fans rooting for us. That would be amazing,” said all-star shortstop Bo Bichette. “But if it doesn't happen, we'll just continue to fight and continue to battle in Buffalo and do our best.”
And as is so often the case for the Blue Jays, they’ll have to continue to be one of 30 to make it happen.
“It's a manifestation of what happens when you don't have all your games played in the United States,” said Clark.
“There's a recognition and respect for that government and what's happening in Canada and the decisions that it's making in order to protect its citizens. We respect that. So while the protocols and the guideposts that we have on the domestic side may be a little different, we understand that the challenges that are there and the decisions that are being made are against the backdrop of the citizens in Canada and protecting them moving forward. We'll work through them, understanding they're different.”