With less than one week until the scheduled start of the 2020 MLB season a serious complication has emerged for the Toronto Blue Jays, the only team not based in the Unite States. This afternoon Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced that MLB’s regular season would require repeated border crossings between the US and Canada that would jeopardize the health of Canadian citizens, according to the Associated Press:
“Unlike preseason training, regular season games would require repeated cross-border travel of Blue Jays players and staff, as well as opponent teams into and out of Canada. Of particular concern, the Toronto Blue Jays would be required to play in locations where the risk of virus transmission remains high,” Mendicino said.
“Based on the best-available public health advice, we have concluded the cross-border travel required for MLB regular season play would not adequately protect Canadians’ health and safety. As a result, Canada will not be issuing a National Interest Exemption for the MLB’s regular season at this time.”
One glance at this map from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Resource Center is all you need to understand the rationale behind this decision:
You can read Mendicino’s full statement below:
As you can see from the above statement the key issue is not the Blue Jays’ ability to protect their players at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. That preseason exemption had already been granted prior to the start of Summer Camp, and the Blue Jays have been working out at their home park like every other team for a little over two weeks now. However, it is telling that MLB proceeded with its plans for a shortened season in 2020 prior to obtaining buy-in from the Canadian government on their regular season plans, a buy-in that they have now been denied, leaving the Blue Jays in search of a new home park with less than a week to the start of the regular season.
It is worth noting that the Blue Jays got off to a rockier start than some other clubs as they tried to get their players to Toronto. Players were not allowed to enter Canada until they had two negative tests which delayed a “handful” of players and staff arriving according to Sportsnet Canada:
A handful of Toronto Blue Jays players and staff who had direct contact with the team’s latest player to test positive for COVID-19 remained in Dunedin, Fla., while the rest of the team chartered north over the weekend, according to an industry source.
The group held back won’t be able to join training camp at Rogers Centre until each member produces two negative tests under the protocol agreed to with the Canadian government. The team had planned to run a second charter up to Toronto in the coming days.
Those delays were followed by infielder Travis Shaw expressing dismay at the quarantine protocols the Blue Jays would be expected to follow in order to play in Toronto. Specifically, the team would be expected to adhere to much more stringent quarantine standards than their US counterparts or risk a $750,000 fine. Since the Canadian government requires anyone entering the country to quarantine for 14 days, the effect for the Blue Jays players and staff would be remaining in their hotel (which is connected to the Rogers Centre) at all times during the shortened season:
We were told two weeks... not all summer... all summer is a bit much https://t.co/6S7euLbHWA— Travis Shaw (@travis_shaw21) July 10, 2020
Shaw ultimately clarified his comments, but the logistical nightmare of even a highly tested and contained group of people routinely flying into hot spots in the United States and then returning to Canada was clearly too much of a risk for the Canadian government regarding their coronavirus pandemic response.
The Blue Jays are not scheduled to play a game at home until July 29, so MLB has a bit of time to figure out an alternate site for them to play their home games this summer. Their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo and Spring Training park in Dunedin, Florida are both less than ideal for this particular situation. However, at this moment it appears the backup plan is to relocate the Toronto Blue Jays to Buffalo:
In recent days Buffalo has emerged as club's backup plan over Dunedin. Club already has some staff there laying groundwork. Would be an 11-day scramble to get it ready. https://t.co/1P63GjVqPM— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) July 18, 2020
According to Jeremy Frank the last MLB game in Buffalo was in September, 1915. This move will make 2020 the first MLB season held entirely on American soil since 1968:
Assuming the Blue Jays cannot play in Toronto for the entire season, 2020 will be the first MLB regular season to solely take place in the United States since 1968.— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) July 18, 2020
MLB has already been scrambling as they try to increase COVID-19 testing capacity to meet the needs of all 30 teams and one team needing to make a last minute move to their Triple-A site will surely not be the last hurdle if baseball really is to be played in 2020. However, seeing America’s pastime limited to American soil due to the failed American pandemic response is simultaneously clearly necessary and one of the more stunning developments I’ve witnessed in the last 127 days.