DENVER – The site of the next Toronto Blue Jays homestand remains in limbo while the federal government considers the club’s proposal for a Rogers Centre return, and their all-stars are uncertain about what coming home will look like for them.
The front office is first working on securing a national interest exemption before bringing the protocols to players, Marcus Semien – the all-star second baseman who is also on the players association’s influential executive subcommittee – said Monday.
From the Blue Jays on their attempt to return to Rogers Centre. pic.twitter.com/b1zUAn3DXL
— Alex Seixeiro (@alexfan590) July 13, 2021
In Toronto’s proposal to return to play at the Rogers Centre, courtesy of Alex Seixeiro of the FAN 590 and 680 NEWS, the Blue Jays cite the league’s high vaccination rates with more than 85 per cent of players and personnel across the league fully immunized.
“Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals on the home and visiting teams will adhere to a modified quarantine for the first 14 days in Canada,” the team says.
“They will be permitted to leave their residence only to participate in baseball activities at the Rogers Centre.”
A decision from federal officials is needed soon for the Blue Jays to return to the dome in time for the July 30 start of a 10-game homestand against Kansas City, Cleveland and Boston.
“We remain hopeful to be back home this summer, playing in front of Blue Jays fans at Rogers Centre for the first time in nearly two years and being part of our community’s recovery from the pandemic,” the Blue Jays said in a team statement.
If they can’t get back in time for that, the next homestand on Aug. 20 against Detroit and the White Sox is the next target, with the application of Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC to stage a July 17 game at BMO Field likely to be a leading indicator.
Should the federal government allow the Blue Jays to return home – currently, only fully vaccinated Canadians are eligible to skip the mandatory two-week quarantine for arriving travellers – sign-offs from the union and Major League Baseball will still be needed.
“That’s something we’re still working on,” Semien said.
“The majority of us are vaccinated. We’re interested to see what these protocols will be for people’s families. I have three kids that aren’t (eligible to be) vaccinated so I want to know what’s happening there. We’ll have to see. We owe it to the city to come back and play there, and I’m hoping that it’s in front of fans to get that energy to have a second-half push.”
Some type of dual-track plan in which vaccinated players are treated like arriving Canadians and unvaccinated players are bubbled in some way akin to how the NHL teams and Olympic qualifying tournament squads were handled is part of the team’s proposal.
Semien said the club’s leadership group has been given the gist of the proposal through conversations with president and CEO Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins.
“They’re excited, they’re optimistic,” Semien said. “We all want to get there and see what it’s going to take.”
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. isn’t concerned that players will face additional COVID-19 protocols playing in Toronto as opposed to Buffalo – “We played like that last year,” he said – but “I would love for my fiancee and my two daughters to be there to watch me play. And of course, the fans.”
Border restrictions forced the Blue Jays to play last season at an empty Sahlen Field and to split the first half of the 2021 campaign between TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo.
While the isolation of 2020 was in many ways harder, the toll of having two homes already this year with the possibility of a third, especially in the absence of the local support every other club has in the stands, is beginning to take a toll.
“We miss our own fans a lot,” said Guerrero, speaking through interpreter Hector Lebron.
“When we played in Dunedin, pretty much all the fans were rooting for the other team. When we played the Yankees in Buffalo, everybody goes for the Yankees. It’s kind of hard.”
Adds shortstop Bo Bichette: “Definitely something that nobody else has gone through. Last year, it probably took a bigger toll on us. This year we were prepared for it. And I’m sure it’s probably taken some sort of toll on us, but you never hear about it in the clubhouse. There’s never a complaint about it, you know, it is what it is, and I think we’ve handled it well. To do what we’re doing under the circumstances, I think, is really impressive and hopefully, we continue to build upon it and get better.”
The Blue Jays hit the all-star break at 45-42, eight games back to the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox and 4.5 games behind the Oakland Athletics for the second wild card.
They last played at the Rogers Centre on Sept. 29, 2019, beating the Tampa Bay Rays 8-3, although they did stage their restart camp at the dome last summer.
When Semien signed his $18-million, one-year deal with the Blue Jays, the team was hoping to open the season in Toronto, and then hopeful of going straight from Dunedin to Rogers Centre.
Instead, a Buffalo stopover was needed and July 30 is the next target.
“We just adjusted,” Semien said. “Playing in the minor-league stadiums is tough because the wind is so crazy. You saw that in Dunedin, even in Buffalo, they could change a game and you don’t usually see that as much in the big-league stadiums. So we’re hoping to go to Toronto, a lot of guys have already played there and know what it is.”
Bichette, now into his third season in the majors, has played just 21 big-league games at the Rogers Centre, the same number as at TD Ballpark in Dunedin and nine less than at Sahlen Field.
“We want to get home, you know?” Bichette said.
“We’ve got a chance to make the playoffs and we’d love to have fans rooting for us. That would be amazing. But if it doesn’t happen, we’ll just continue to fight and continue to battle in Buffalo and do our best.”