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Canadian teams hold out hope for 2021 return

Vancouver CanadiansWith Canadian MLB, MiLB, summer-collegiate and Partner Leagues teams playing in the United States because of a closed border, some front-office personnel are holding out hope for a late-season return to home ballparks.

The highest profile of the Canadian expatriate teams, the Toronto Blue Jays, have played home games this season first at Dunedin’s TD Ballpark and Buffalo’s Sahlen Field, but neither was an ideal situation. The ideal situation, of course, is returning to Rogers Centre, but with provincial and national restrictions still in place regarding capacity limits and border closures, it’s looking like it won’t be until August until a return to games north to the border, per Mark Shapiro via Jays from the Couch:

When asked about his thoughts regarding the Blue Jays playing in Rogers Centre this season, Shapiro stated, “I feel different than last year.” He noted that the conversations with public health officials at all three levels of government, particularly the amount of engagement with the Federal Government, are much more extensive this year. He also noted that everyone, including government representatives, has more COVID-19 experience to draw upon during recent conversations.

In addition to the matter of the border, Shapiro mentioned that timing is also an issue. Although July 30 and August 20 are the start dates of long home stands, Shapiro stated that the Blue Jays could not make a unilateral decision to move back to Toronto. Such a matter would require the team to seek approvals from MLB, MLBPA, public health officials, three levels of government and other stakeholders.

Shapiro observed that “there is a chance that it could happen this year.” However, moving an entire operation and the families of players and other employees is not a simple task. He offered an interesting analogy: it’s like turning around a big vessel in the middle of the ocean.

Also desiring a return to home: the Vancouver Canadians, playing this season out of Hillsboro’s Ron Tonkin Field. C’s owner Andy Dunn is hoping that border and capacity restrictions will be lifted in time for the Canadians’ final two home series in September:

The C’s kept staffers in Vancouver when they migrated to Hillsboro, led by general manager Allan Bailey. Dunn believes the C’s could make a move back to The Nat happen in short order if given the green light.

“There would be a lot of balls in the air, but they are all things we could accomplish,” Dunn said.

Also eagerly watching the border status: the MLB Partner League Frontier League, which has players from its three Canadian squads–Quebec Capitales, Trois-Rivières Aigles and Ottawa Titans–playing as a road team in the United States under the Équipe Québec banner. Right now uncertainty reigns; team owners would love to welcome home the teams, but there is no plan in place, per the Asbury Park Press:

“As we got closer to the season in early April we realized the border would not open as we had hoped,” [Frontier League deputy commissioner of operations Steve] Tahsler said. “They also could not cross province lines until a few weeks ago.”

Initially it was planned that all games would be on the road through at least July 23, Tahsler said. “That was the first day that they thought was feasible to play in Canada,” he added. “We have not gotten any notice that it is going to open yet, we are talking to the people in Quebec on a daily basis.”

In the summer-collegiate ranks, it looks like the opening of the border will come too late for the West Coast League’s Victoria HarbourCats and Nanaimo NightOwls, who made the early decision to scrap the season in the face of uncertainty. While the border could be opened on July 21, there’s no enough time to launch operations, though NightOwls/HarbourCats managing partner Jim Swanson said there’s the chance for some exhibitions with the teams.

“With our U.S. teams in the West Coast League already well into their 2021 WCL season, and with the border still closed, it will be impossible for us to ramp up any kind of regular season,” said Swanson in a press release. “But we are exploring some kind of exhibition series between our two teams, albeit altered from what we’ve been proud to put on the field for so many years. If something is able to be done, we will let everyone know any plans at a later date.”

RELATED STORIES: Blue Jays begin Buffalo tenure tonight; Blue Jays end Dunedin run; Blue Jays make it official: Shuffling off to Buffalo on June 1; Blue Jays to Buffalo, Bisons to TrentonBlue Jays extend Dunedin residency through MayCanadian pro teams prep for border challengesBlue Jays may displace Bisons in BuffaloBlue Jays to begin 2021 MLB season in Dunedin’s TD Ballpark

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