Blue Jays await federal government response as Toronto FC plans return home

Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler discuss great starting pitching performances for the Toronto Blue Jays during their series with the Tampa Bay Rays and what the team needs to do to fix their defence.

TORONTO — As Toronto FC aims for a return home to host a July 17 game at BMO Field, the Toronto Blue Jays are awaiting a response from the federal government on a proposal that would bring them back to Rogers Centre for a homestand beginning July 30.

Bill Manning, president for the Major League Soccer side that’s taken refuge at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium this season, told reporters Sunday that the team planned to travel to Toronto on Thursday. While the club hasn’t yet received clearance to stage its contest versus Orlando later this month at its downtown Toronto stadium, Manning said during a news conference that he’s “optimistic” with ongoing discussions “heading in the right direction.”

Specific details of the club’s plans weren’t immediately known, although Manning mentioned that regulations “allow us to come back home and train, those that are fully vaccinated, so we will certainly take advantage of that.”

The Blue Jays submitted their own application for a return home to the federal government in recent weeks, according to an industry source, a proposal that’s already received municipal and provincial approval. They begin a 10-game homestand on July 30 and have yet to announce a venue for those contests against the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland and Boston Red Sox.

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While Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro last month said the team would need about three weeks of notice to move north from its makeshift home of Buffalo’s Sahlen Field, the lead-time could be shortened allowing more time for the process to play out.

If federal government approval doesn’t come back in time for those games, the next target would be a seven-game homestand against Detroit and the Chicago White Sox beginning Aug. 20.

The Blue Jays plan is likely to be built around the easing of border restrictions for returning travellers that take effect Monday, and would also need to account for the segment of unvaccinated players in Major League Baseball.

One possibility is that fully vaccinated players would be afforded the same freedoms as other returning travellers while those unvaccinated would be subject to some type of modified cohort quarantine akin to those used by the Montreal Canadiens and their opponents in the NHL Stanley Cup semifinals and finals, and teams in the Olympic basketball qualifying tournament.

During his comments last month, Shaprio said the border restrictions were the primary obstacle standing between the club and a return home, and that any proposal would likely cover travel rules for his players, their families and visiting teams. Both union and MLB approvals would also be needed.

According to the June 25 data released by MLB and the players union, 23 of the 30 big-league teams have reached the 85 per cent threshold for full vaccination of Tier 1 individuals (platers, managers, coaches, doctors, trainers and strength and conditioning staff).

The collective full vaccination rate for Tier 1 individuals stood at 85.4.

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.

Almost all of Toronto FC’s players and the entire staff is fully vaccinated, reported Neil Davidson of The Canadian Press.

Policies on attendance would be governed by Ontario’s Return-To-Play Framework for pro sports, a pathway linked to the province’s reopening stages.

The Blue Jays, who are playing their home games through at least July 21 at Sahlen Field after calling TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla. home for April and May, have been displaced since the pandemic began. Their last game at Rogers Centre was an 8-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sept. 29, 2019, although they did stage their restart camp at the dome last summer.

Toronto FC last played at BMO Field on Sept. 1, 2020.

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