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Buffalo or hybrid schedule still among plans as Blue Jays ponder home site

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Sahlen Field

Sahlen Field opened in 1988 as Pilot Field.

While playing their home schedule at a major-league park remains their No. 1 choice, the vagabond Toronto Blue Jays are still studying plans to stage their games in Sahlen Field if necessary.

What emerged from a media Zoom call Monday with Toronto General Manager Ross Atkins was several possibilities. One was playing the entire schedule here and another was a hybrid plan, where Buffalo gets a few games out of the 30 home contests.

"It is an evolving and a moving target," said Atkins, two days after the Canadian federal government rejected the Jays' application to play their games in Canada. "We want to make sure we have health and safety as a priority. 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."

On site in Buffalo the last two days have been Bryan Blew, the Jays' senior vice president for facilities and business operations, and Phil Dimino, the rehab coordinator from the club's High Performance Department. They have been going over all corners of Sahlen Field to see what has to be adapted for the Jays to use the facility. It's worth noting they would likely be here anyway because Buffalo is going to be Toronto's Alternate Training Site for its non-roster players if its games are not held here.

"Some of it is overlapping work," said Mike Buczkowski, president of Rich Baseball Operations. "If they don't play here but the taxi squad plays, you don't have to do as much but a lot of things are the same. The protocols are the protocols, whether it's a game or a taxi squad working out. You wouldn't have as many people, wouldn't have media, but you've still got to have testing and areas to execute MLB's operations plan."

"We feel exceptionally confident that the team and that group of people can get the standards to a level that are safe and playable," Atkins said. 

Without specifying details, Atkins said the Jays have more than five contingency plans. The most prominent one is believed to revolve around Pittsburgh's PNC Park serving as the Jays' home base.

"We need support, adjustment and adaptability," Atkins said. "Not just from this organization but we'll need it from others."

If the Jays were to play at another major-league facility, they would need to work with MLB to determine whether the stadium’s infrastructure would allow for two “home” teams for the season, along with facilities for a visiting team.

Said Pirates president Travis Williams in a statement: "This will be a monumental challenge for our staff, but leaning in to help others is what Pittsburghers do best."

The Jays wrapped up their Summer Camp on Monday and left Rogers Centre presumably for the final time this season. They headed for Boston to play exhibition games against the Red Sox in Fenway Park on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The season opens Friday in Tampa Bay.

If the Blue Jays finagle with their home schedule, one possibility would be to take their entire opening homestand on the road to give nearly two more weeks of time to get work done in Buffalo.

The Jays are in Washington July 27 and 28 and could then bat as the home team in Nationals Park and stay there for their "home games" of July 29-30. They could then perhaps flip series with Philadelphia, going to Citizens Bank Park for the games July 31 and Aug. 1-2 and instead hosting the Phillies Sept. 18-20.

Eliminating those five home games would give them until the Aug. 11 game against Miami to get Sahlen Field ready because the team has an off day, a six-game road trip to Atlanta and Boston and another off day before the two-game set with the Marlins opens.

"I would think that's possible," Buczkowski said. "I don't know specifically what it takes for them to do that but it seems to me that could be an option. We haven't really talked much about what would be the actual date, other than it would be possible perhaps to start a little bit later if they needed to."

Atkins acknowledged staying on the road and batting last, and flipping home series to massage the schedule have been discussed. 

Asked if there was any deadline established, the GM joked, "Yesterday would be great, right? We would all like to have direction and clarity. ... We're solution focused. We'll do it as quick as we humanly can."

For Sahlen Field to be a viable home, the Blue Jays would need to improve the lighting and also figure out how to reconfigure the ballpark for social distancing in the dugouts, clubhouses, training rooms and workout areas. Many of those items could be relocated from the park's service level to the concourses that will be without fans. 

"The infrastructure and the building is going to be what it is. There's nothing we can do about that if we were to end up in Buffalo," Atkins said. "But if we have to take seven trucks with all the resources in our weight room, in our training room, our clubhouse, all of the batting cage facility, bullpen facilities, everything that we have here, we will find a way to get it down there. Even if it means constructing more places for those things to go."

Atkins said if Buffalo is selected to be the Blue Jays' home, the team's taxi squad will be based in Rochester at Frontier Field.

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