Toronto Blue Jays will begin regular season in Dunedin

When the MLB regular season begins, Tampa Bay will play host to two teams: the Rays and now the Toronto Blue Jays. 

The team announced Thursday it will play its first two homestands through May 2 at TD Ballpark in Dunedin. 

The move is due to COVID-19 travel restrictions between the US and Canada.

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"It doesn’t diminish from our desire to back in Canada and Toronto, but it acknowledges that that’s just not a realistic possibility right now," said Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro.  

The Jays also announced they'll cap fan capacity at 15% at TD Ballpark. That's close to 1,300 spectators.

"We’ll be selling tickets in a way that’s safe, social distancing, masks, pods things that create a still positive environment," Shapiro said.

City Manager Jennifer Bramley says Dunedin will be rolling out the red carpet for the team.

"There has never been regular-season professional Major League Baseball in Dunedin, it’s a first for us," she said. "We’re thrilled, it’s a real shot in the arm for us it really is we're really excited to have them," she said.

The decision by the Blue Jays follows that of the NBA's Toronto Raptors. The team announced last week that it would play out its entire NBA season inside Tampa's Amalie Arena.

"Raptors, Blue Jays, The Super Bowl, any of those events really draws the spotlight to this region to this place that you can come and do things in a safe manner," said Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada.

Major league fastballs start flying in TD Ballpark on April 8.

After starting the season with three-game series at the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, Toronto’s schedule has a homestand with four games against the Los Angeles Angels from April 8-11 and the Yankees from April 12-14.

The Blue Jays follow with a trip to Kansas City, Boston and Tampa Bay, then have home games against Washington on April 27-28 and Atlanta from April 30 to May 2. That is followed by a 10-game trip to Oakland, Houston and Atlanta.

It remains unlikely they would gain approval to play May games in Toronto. A return home in the second half might be more realistic after players and large segments of the population in the U.S. and Canada are vaccinated.

The TD Ballpark in Dunedin has a capacity of about 8,500. It opened in 1990 as Dunedin Stadium, built on the site of old Grant Field. The ballpark, known as Knology Park from 2004–08 and Florida Auto Exchange Stadium from 2010–17, had a major renovation in 2019-20.

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Toronto last played at 49,000-capacity Rogers Centre on Sept. 29, 2019, an 8-3 win over Tampa Bay.

The Blue Jays played home games during the shortened 2020 season in Buffalo, New York, and were 17-9 at Sahlen Field, home of their Buffalo Bisons Triple-A farm team. The Canadian government didn’t allow the team to play at home because of the risk of spreading COVID-19 due to frequent travel required during a baseball season.

Last year’s Major League Baseball regular season was played without fans.

The border remains closed to nonessential travelers who are not Canadian citizens; Canada requires those entering the country to isolate for 14 days. And starting Monday, air travelers who arrive in Canada will be forced to quarantine in a hotel for up to three nights as they await the result of a coronavirus test.

Ongoing challenges with the pandemic and how that affects the process of crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada will also keep the Toronto Raptors in their adopted Tampa, home for the remainder of the regular season, the NBA team said last week.

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The Blue Jays went 32-28 last season, finishing third in the AL East behind Tampa Bay and the Yankees and qualifying for the expanded 16-team postseason. The Blue Jays were swept in two games by the AL champion Rays in a first-round series.

Toronto has been among the busiest teams on the free-agent market, agreeing to a $150 million, six-year contract with outfielder George Springer; an $18 million, one-year contract with shortstop Marcus Semien; a $5.5 million, one-year deal with right-hander Kirby Yates; a $3 million, one-year contract with right-hander Tyler Chatwood and a $1.75 million, one-year contract with right-hander David Phelps.

The Blue Jays also re-signed left-hander Robbie Ray to an $8 million, one-year contract.

The Associated Press and FOX 13 News contributed to this report.