If it means the opportunity to play games on familiar turf — and out of the disaster that is Florida — Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said his team is willing to go above and beyond the strictest of safety guidelines to make it happen. Read MoreBlue Jays players told to hang tight as officials push hard for Toronto training camp — Toronto Sun
If it means the opportunity to play games on familiar turf — and out of the disaster that is Florida — Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said his team is willing to go above and beyond the strictest of safety guidelines to make it happen.
Now comes the challenge of convincing layers of health and government officials in Canada that blockades should be removed for a team that has had an undisclosed number of players and staff record positive tests for the COVID-19 virus this week in Florida.
Despite having to ready 60 players and a coaching staff for a training camp due to begin in less than a week, the Jays are still a team with no fixed address. While the other 29 Major League Baseball teams prepare to go back to work at their home stadiums, the Jays first need to get government and health clearance to set up shop here.
Either that or roll the pandemic dice and get to work in Dunedin, Fla., now that Shapiro said the club has ruled out all other options.
“There is more comfort coming to Toronto and conducting training camp here under the conditions and circumstances here,” Shapiro said on a Friday conference call with baseball reporters. “But if we have to do it in Florida, we will do so with diligence and detail and do our best to keep players out of harm’s way.”
As the Florida numbers have spiked alarmingly over the past week, Shapiro and the Jays have stepped up lobbying efforts with health officials from the federal, provincial and municipal levels.
Shapiro certainly isn’t about to disclose the details of those talks — or even the prospects of success — but did say that the Jays are willing to go above and beyond the exhaustive 100-plus page safety protocol manual issued by MLB.
That would include creating “a modified quarantine for our players and if we move to a regular-season scenario for visiting players,” Shapiro said. “That would be in addition to the MLB protocol.”
While safety is paramount, time is also of the essence for the Jays. Players have been told to be ready to ship north, but not to go so far as make actual travel plans until the team can make an actual decision. The mess puts the Jays in a situation unlike any other team and at a possible competitive disadvantage.
“A deadline does not exist formally,” Shapiro said. “We have to deal with the reality that we have logistical issues that we have 60 players and staff to transport. If we delay a decision too long, there are implications in our readiness and competitiveness. We are working on an accelerated time frame and we need to make a decision very soon.”
Shapiro said the team isn’t seeking “extreme special treatment” from Canadian governments and health authorities and that the team is “understanding and deferential to public health and safety” concerns.
That said, he acknowledged that Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto mayor John Tory have been open to discussing the Rogers Centre option.
“Their guidance and support has been very strong throughout the entire time I’ve been talking,” Shapiro said. “It’s been encouraging.”
So where does that leave the Jays as the scheduled return to work is measured in days and plans to relocate can be counted in hours? On a Zoom call with general manager Ross Atkins on Thursday, players were apprised of the alternatives and told to “hang tight.”
Shapiro said the team has ruled out Buffalo, home of the team’s triple-A affiliate, as well as sharing Tropicana Field with the Rays. Best case, the Jays get clearance to have both training camp and regular-season home games at the Rogers Centre. Second best — and perhaps the most realistic — is to be forced to begin training camp in Dunedin before shifting north at some point.
The Florida problem is an admitted concern, however.
Though Shapiro would offer no details on the players and staff who tested positive for COVID-19 this week beyond stating they were the result of community spread. The Jays CEO knows more bad news is likely on the way.
“We expect a lot of positives tests,” Shapiro said. “Any time you do comprehensive tests, the numbers go up. We are testing every single person at intake. That’s going to be part of the transition process into creating the closed environment as much as possible around our players.”
As foreboding as that may sound — and certainly a point of discussion regarding the lobby for possible border crossing — Shapiro is confident that the young Jays team will be diligent in staying safe.
“It’s encouraging to hear both our players and our staff express their understanding that their ability to stay healthy is going to be key to their success,” Shapiro said. “No one wants to have to sit out and not play.
“I think it will be very important for it to be a collaborative effort that will take a partnership between us and the players. There are many things within our control that enable us to stay healthy. The players are going to be constantly educated on that and provided protection wherever possible.”
At this point, wherever is most definitely the operative word.