Blue Jays favor another MLB ballpark for new home

PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The ballpark, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, is also a candidate to host Toronto Blue Jays games this season. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays are increasingly looking at the option of sharing a ballpark with another Major League Baseball team in its search for a new home venue for the 2020 season.

Two days after the club was denied permission by the Canadian federal government to play at Rogers Centre in Toronto, due to concerns about frequent US-Canada border crossings amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said the club’s preference is ideally to play in another MLB ballpark.

“It is an evolving and a moving target. We want to make sure we have health and safety as a priority,” Atkins said. “The players’ feedback and perspective is exceptionally important to us. All things being equal, we would much rather be in a major-league facility. We just have to weigh that with what that means in the world of a pandemic.”

To that end, the Pittsburgh Pirates said they are in “active discussions” with Toronto and MLB about the Blue Jays sharing PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“This will be a monumental challenge for our staff, but leaning in to help others is what Pittsburghers do best,” said Travis Williams, who was named last fall as Pirates president. “If we are able to safety accommodate, not only will it bring additional international attention to our city, it will also bring with it jobs and revenue for local hotels, restaurants, and other businesses that will support the Blue Jays organization as well as additional visiting teams.”

Other various press reports indicated Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland, and Nationals Park in Washington, District of Columbia, were also being considered for Blue Jays games. The Orioles and Nationals, however, have not commented on that.

The Blue Jays initial home game on its schedule is July 29 against Washington. It is also possible some Blue Jays home games, particularly at the start of the season, are played at visiting teams’ ballparks, but with Toronto batting last.

Atkins said the Blue Jays had more than five contingency plans for a temporary home venue, but declined to name them. Among them, however, remains Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, home of the Blue Jays’ Class AAA minor league affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons. That facility is not located in a Covid-19 hotspot, and the city and Bisons franchise already have close ties with the Blue Jays. 

But Sahlen Field, like any other MiLB ballpark, would require some upgrades to systems such as its lighting to bring it up to MLB standards, as well as a reconfiguration of other areas such as clubhouses and training rooms to enable social distancing.

Chris Marinak, MLB executive vice president for strategy, technology, and innovation, said the decision on the Blue Jays’ home will rest primarily with the club. But Marinak said it would be possible for the Blue Jays to play at a minor league facility and be supported with some of the league’s technology infrastructure, including instant replay, but not advanced pitch and player tracking systems.

“To the extent they select somewhere that’s not one of the 30 MLB ballparks, we would do everything we could to stand up and support infrastructure and be as consistent as possible [compared to other clubs],” Marinak said.