O Dunedin: Canada Will Have to Wait to See the Blue Jays

It has been 18 months since the Toronto Blue Jays performed a game in Canada, and it’s doubtless to be a number of extra earlier than the staff can return to its dwelling discipline at Rogers Centre.

So, for now, dwelling for one among the most intriguing groups in the game — one with an enviable mixture of younger, hungry expertise and confirmed veteran free agent additions — might be a tiny spring coaching park in Dunedin, Fla. Coronavirus precautions could also be easing round the United States, however baseball followers in Canada will merely have to wait.

“Obviously, we can’t wait for the day when we will be back in Toronto,” Ross Atkins, the Blue Jays’ normal supervisor, stated in a current interview. “The players understand this is part of going through a pandemic, and as long as they have what they need to prepare, compete and recover, we will be OK. They are excited about this being their home for the short term.”

To accommodate regular-season video games for the first time, the enjoying discipline in Dunedin has been renovated to adhere to main league requirements. The lighting has been enhanced, too, with vivid LED bulbs and extra gentle towers added for evening video games.

But it’s what these lights will shine down upon that has followers of the staff, in Canada and elsewhere, notably excited. The staff’s rising core of vivid children, like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette — all sons of former main league stars — was enhanced by the additions of George Springer and Marcus Semien, who signed as free brokers throughout the winter. On paper, the Blue Jays have one among the extra formidable lineups in the American League.

“There’s no room to breathe,” Biggio stated, referring to the problem confronted by opposing pitchers. “Top to bottom, we have great hitters.”

Toronto dedicated greater than $186 million to its 2021 free-agent class, $150 million of which will go to Springer over six years in the largest deal in franchise historical past. Semien, who hit 33 dwelling runs for the Athletics in 2019, signed a one-year deal for $18 million.

Toronto’s pitching is much less sure, however the Jays hope the addition of Steven Matz, whom they acquired in a commerce from the Mets in January, will add much-needed depth behind the workers’s ace, Hyun-jin Ryu. But even with some questions surrounding the arms, power remains to be constructing for a rising staff. Atkins stated the group of younger and new gamers had built-in nicely, and he’s buoyed by the cohesiveness.

“It feels very much like a team,” he stated, “and not just a gathering of talent.”

Springer, 31, and Semien, 30, add management and know-how to a zesty lineup that already featured Guerrero, who turned 22 this month; Bichette, who turned 23 this month; and Biggio, 25. Last yr, that younger core pushed the Blue Jays to a 32-28 report, together with 17-9 whereas enjoying in a minor league park in Buffalo, and misplaced in the wild-card spherical of the expanded playoff format to the Tampa Bay Rays, the eventual American League champions.

“If we stay healthy, we are going to compete and do really well,” stated Charlie Montoyo, the Blue Jays’ supervisor. “Right now, I feel really good about our team.”

So does Springer, who has seven dwelling runs in 14 World Series video games with the Houston Astros. He stated early in spring coaching that he had been struck by the maturity of the Blue Jays’ younger stars.

“I think they are advanced for their age,” he stated. “It’s beyond impressive to be in the big leagues this young and do all the things these guys can do. I’ve been on the other side, and I’ve seen it. I know it’s early, but I am very excited. I can see that the talent is there.”

Last yr’s glimmer of success helped persuade the Jays to make investments by including established stars as a part of a self-sustaining technique to contend over a few years. The hope is that after the followers latch on, the membership will attain a tipping level the place the big potential for help in Canada will gasoline a regenerative loop of income, expertise and success. It is a plan that hinges, partly, on the staff’s ultimately getting again dwelling to play in entrance of paying followers.

The solely drawback is that for the second yr in a row, the Blue Jays might be baseball’s nomads, ready and hoping to get again to Rogers Centre for the first time since Sept. 29, 2019.

“It’s disappointing for everyone to have a team with so many rising stars and a couple of key free agents, and they can’t play at home,” stated Buck Martinez, the former catcher and longtime Blue Jays broadcaster. “But the people of Canada are more concerned with the overall well-being of the general public, and until we get to a point where we can ensure that everyone is safe, the Blue Jays will have to play elsewhere.”

Martinez introduced final yr’s video games from Toronto whereas the staff performed its dwelling video games at Sahlen Field in Buffalo. This yr, the Jays will open in Dunedin, a city that fashions itself right into a Canadian outpost of kinds each spring, with pink and white maple leaf flags blended in with indicators for poutine at the concession stands.

The Jays have dedicated to enjoying a minimum of their first two dwelling stands there, by May 2, and the expectation is that they’re doubtless to play in Dunedin by the finish of May. If mandatory, they might then transfer again to Buffalo as an interim step earlier than a probably triumphant return dwelling. The timing will more than likely rely upon how the staff fares in Dunedin, with climate doubtlessly enjoying a task.

If the scorching and wet Florida summer season is taking a toll, a transfer to Buffalo, or some other place in the United States, might be in the offing, so long as some logistical problems are addressed. Last yr, there was no minor league season, however this yr there can be some scheduling overlaps to overcome with the Class AAA Bisons. On these dates, maybe the Bisons might play throughout the day and the Jays at evening. Also, final yr Sahlen Field was up to date for Major League play, however some remaining points, like insufficient lighting and unprotected bullpens in foul territory, might have to be addressed.

But the hope is that earlier than the finish of the season, the ranges of coronavirus infections and vaccinations can have reached some extent that restrictions on border crossings might be relaxed sufficient to permit the Blue Jays — and their opponents — to fly backwards and forwards.

For now, the Blue Jays are extra targeted on health. Springer strained an indirect muscle towards the finish of spring coaching; Robbie Ray bruised his elbow when he fell down at his rental dwelling whereas holding his little one, who was stated to be tremendous; and Kirby Yates, who signed throughout the winter, was misplaced for the season after present process elbow surgical procedure.

Still, Montoyo referred to as it the finest spring he had seen in 35 years, due to the gamers’ effort and focus. Mostly, he’s impressed with their rising confidence. When he spoke to the staff as a bunch lately, he stated, he didn’t really feel the want to dig up any canned motivational quotes for inspiration.

He believes the gamers are already pushed to make their mark, whether or not it’s in Dunedin, Buffalo, Toronto or wherever else the season takes them.

“That’s a beautiful thing for a manager to see,” Montoyo stated. “They want to win, and they expect to win.”

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