The Toronto Blue Jays will play their first two homestands of the season at their spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida, because of Canadian government restrictions during the pandemic.
The team said Thursday it has been planning different scenarios for home games and had hoped to see improvements in public health.
The Blue Jays cited the “ongoing Canada-U.S. border closure” in making the “difficult decision." The team added in its statement that it ”hopes of a return to play at Rogers Centre as soon as possible.”
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After starting the season with three-game series at the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, Toronto’s schedule has a homestand with four games against the Los Angeles Angels from April 8-11 and the Yankees from April 12-14.
The Blue Jays follow with a trip to Kansas City, Boston and Tampa Bay, then have home games against Washington on April 27-28 and Atlanta from April 30 to May 2. That is followed by a 10-game trip to Oakland, Houston and Atlanta.
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.
The TD Ballpark in Dunedin seats about 8,500 fans and had a major renovation in 2019-20. The Blue Jays will limit capacity to 15%.
Toronto last played at 49,000-capacity Rogers Centre on Sept. 29, 2019, an 8-3 win over Tampa Bay.
“We hope for warm summer nights under the open Rogers Centre roof,” the team said.
The Blue Jays played home games during the shortened 2020 season in Buffalo, New York, and were 17-9 at Sahlen Field, home of their Buffalo Bisons Triple-A farm team. The Canadian government didn’t allow the team to play at home because of the risk of spreading COVID-19, citing frequent travel required during a baseball season.
Last year’s Major League Baseball regular season was played without fans.
The border remains closed to nonessential travelers who are not Canadian citizens. Canada requires those entering the country to isolate for 14 days. And starting Monday, air travelers 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.
The Blue Jays went went 32-28 last season, finishing third in the AL East behind Tampa Bay and the Yankees and qualifying for the expanded 16-team postseason. The Blue Jays were swept in two games by the AL champion Rays in a first-round series.
Toronto has been among the busiest teams on the free-agent market, agreeing to a $150 million, six-year contract with outfielder George Springer; an $18 million, one-year contract with shortstop Marcus Semien; a $5.5 million, one-year deal with right-hander Kirby Yates; a $3 million, one-year contract with right-hander Tyler Chatwood and a $1.75 million, one-year contract with right-hander David Phelps.
The Blue Jays also re-signed left-hander Robbie Ray to an $8 million, one-year contract.
AP Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.