If Toronto Blue Jays players get their way, they won't be spending the summer in western New York.
Though Buffalo's Sahlen Field is a leading contender to host the Blue Jays in 2020 after the Canadian government denied their request to play at Rogers Centre, the possibility of playing in a minor-league park isn't sitting well with the team.
Management is listening to the players' concerns, and reliever Anthony Bass said Sunday that the team is working to secure a big-league facility in the U.S. before its home schedule begins on July 29.
"I had a chance to talk with (general manager Ross Atkins) yesterday after I was done pitching, and I just said, 'Look, we want to play in a major-league ballpark. We feel like that's the best opportunity for us.' And he agreed," Bass said, according to Sportsnet's Arden Zwelling. "He said, 'I listen to you guys loud and clear. And that's what we're going to do for you because that's what the team wants.'"
"That was pretty much echoed throughout the clubhouse that we want to be in a major league ballpark, wherever that is. That's really our focus right now," Bass added, according to Rob Gillies of The Associated Press.
Buffalo would be an ideal location in some ways, as it's home to the Blue Jays' Triple-A affiliate and just two hours from Toronto. But the lighting, replay-review system, and broadcast facilities need upgrades to bring Sahlen Field to MLB standards. The clubhouses are also significantly smaller than in the majors, making social distancing more difficult.
One MLB site the Blue Jays are now looking at for some of their home games is PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, sources told Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Pirates' 2020 schedule doesn't overlap much with Toronto's slate, and Pittsburgh is also a short drive from Buffalo, where the Blue Jays' taxi squad would likely still be located.
Blue Jays players also want to avoid moving from Toronto - where COVID-19 numbers are declining - to an area of the United States where the virus is surging.
"We don't want to be in a place where it's a hot spot," Bass said. "We want to be where it's safe. A place where cases are going down or they're very low."
The Blue Jays were optimistic the Canadian government would allow them to hold regular-season games in Toronto, with both the club and its opponents quarantined inside Rogers Centre's hotel. Ultimately, Public Health Canada denied their request, in part due to COVID-19 cases rising in states like Florida and Georgia. Teams located there would have entered Canada to play games.
Although the Blue Jays were disappointed, players understand the reasoning behind the decision.
"COVID-19 still exists, and there are hardworking people on the front lines trying to battle the virus," ace Hyun-Jin Ryu said Saturday, according to Keegan Matheson of MLB.com. "You have to respect the Canadian government's decision to keep the nation safe."