Blue Jays set to open 2021 season playing home games in Dunedin

The Toronto Blue Jays, displaced once again by pandemic border restrictions, will open the 2021 season at their spring home in Dunedin, Fla., according to multiple industry sources.

An internal email Wednesday informed staffers of the decision, which is expected to be announced Thursday, when the club holds its first official workout for pitchers and catchers of the spring.

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. 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 allow for a return to Rogers Centre in Toronto.

It remains unlikely they would gain approval to play May games in Toronto. A return home in the second half may be more realistic, after players and large segments of the population in the U.S. and Canada are vaccinated.

Toronto last played at 49,000-capacity Rogers Centre on Sept. 29, 2019, an 8-3 win over Tampa Bay.

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 two 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 hearing that they 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.

It wasn’t immediately clear if they intend to sell tickets for the regular-season games, but they will already have a framework in place should they chose to.

The border remains closed to nonessential travellers who are not Canadian citizens; Canada requires those entering the country to isolate for 14 days. And starting Monday, air travellers who arrive in Canada will be forced to quarantine in a hotel for up to three nights as they await the result of a coronavirus test.

Ongoing challenges with the pandemic and how that affects the process of crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada will also keep the Toronto Raptors in their adopted Tampa, Florida, home for the remainder of the regular season, the NBA team said last week.

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