Major League Baseball (MLB) team the Toronto Blue Jays is seeking a new home for the 2020 season after the Canadian government refused its request to play at Rogers Centre, while Edmonton’s Rogers Place has been cleared to serve as a hub venue for the NHL ice hockey league after suffering storm damage.
MLB’s 2020 season was due to have commenced on March 26, but it was last month confirmed that it will now consist of a 60-game regular season leading into the playoffs that will open on July 23. The Blue Jays were due to open their campaign at the Tampa Bay Rays on July 24, with the home opener at Rogers Centre (pictured) set for five days later against the Washington Nationals.
However, the government’s concerns over the COVID-19 situation in the US, with the Blue Jays needing to travel frequently between the two countries to play games, has led to it refusing permission for home games to be played in Toronto.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told the Associated Press news agency: “There were serious risks if we proceeded with the regular-season proposal of the MLB and the Jays and therefore we concluded it was not in the national interest.”
MLB needed to secure an exemption to a requirement that anyone entering Canada for nonessential reasons must self-isolate for 14 days. The border remains closed to nonessential travel until at least August 21.
Mendicino added: “In Canada you’ve seen us flatten the curve. You’ve seen that cases have decreased significantly and that is largely attributable to the sacrifices Canadians have made. We can ill afford a step back.
“We think this is the right call and it is backed by the evidence and advice of our health experts. And fans who still would like to see baseball will still be able to watch the broadcast, just from a different location.”
The government’s decision leaves the Blue Jays with a tight timeframe to decide on a new home. Its choices include its spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida; and Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, which is home to its Triple-A affiliate team and just across the Niagara River from Canada.
In a statement, the club said it is in the process of finalising the best home location for the 2020 season. Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said player health is a concern in Florida, one of the hardest-hit states by COVID-19 in the US, while the stadium in Buffalo would pose infrastructure challenges.
Shapiro said Sahlen Field’s lack of space in the clubhouse makes social distancing difficult, while it also needs upgrades to its field lights and its training facilities. He added: “Dunedin is the only one that is 100% seamless right now and ready to go. That from a player-health standpoint has some challenges.
“Buffalo is certainly one that we’ve spent an increasing amount of time on in the past few weeks. That is not done. There are some infrastructure and player-facility challenges to get that up to major league standards. And then we have other alternatives that are real that we continue to work through that may be better for us.”
Meanwhile, Rogers Place will continue as one of the NHL’s key venues for its season restart after a storm on Thursday that caused rain and flood damage. The NHL this month ratified plans to resume play on August 1 at centralised hubs in Toronto and Edmonton after the league and the NHL Players’ Association gave the green light for a four-year extension of their collective bargaining agreement.
On July 26, 12 Eastern Conference teams will head to Toronto and 12 Western Conference teams will travel to Edmonton, where play will begin on August 1 with the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which will mark the start of Phase 4 of the resumption plan.
Despite Thursday’s storm, the Edmonton Oilers and the city’s mayor, Don Iveson, said the arena will be ready to fulfil its duties. “They have completed a preliminary assessment of the building and the damage is cosmetic and is to the roof’s surface, as opposed to any structural damage,” Iveson said, according to the Canadian Press news agency. “It doesn’t look good but … the building is sound and it will be possible to recover from this quickly.”
Oilers Entertainment Group added in a statement: “The damage experienced from (the) rainstorm was due to significant water flow, mixed with hail, which led to excess pressure on the facility’s storm drainage system causing two pipe couplings to fail.
“There was also minor wind damage to the parapet flashing on the roof of Rogers Place. We do not foresee any significant delays or barriers to either the Edmonton Oilers training camp or preparations and activities related to our hosting as the NHL hub city.”