Blue Jays Return To Dunedin But Season A Bust For Businesses

D'Ann Lawrence White

DUNEDIN, FL — The Toronto Blue Jays have confirmed that they are in the process of moving players and personnel to their spring training camp in Dunedin. However, the team isn't saying if it will remain in Dunedin for spring training, which is scheduled to begin July 1.

The Blue Jays said players will be in Dunedin to begin intake screening and the isolation process, the next step in Major League Baseball protocol to resume a modified training schedule.

"Upon the conclusion of intake and isolation, the team will either board a charter flight to Toronto to begin training under a modified quarantine isolated from the public, or remain in Florida to conduct training," said the Blue Jays in a statement.

"The Blue Jays are hopeful to stage training camp and play regular season home games in Toronto and will continue to work through this possibility," said the team.

On June 19, the MLB closed spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona after at least 12 players and staff tested positive for the coronavirus.

As ordered by the MLB, the spring training facilities, including Spectrum Field in Clearwater, spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies; TD Ballpark and the Blue Jays spring training complex in Dunedin; and George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, spring training home of the New York Yankees, have undergone a deep cleaning

Five Philadelphia Phillies players tested positive for the coronavirus while training at Spectrum Field in Clearwater earlier this month.

The Florida Grapefruit League's spring training games had barely got underway when Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. announced March 12 that the MLB was delaying spring training games and the start of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fifteen MLB teams play in the Florida Grapefruit League, the precursor to the MLB's regularly scheduled games. In addition to the Blue Jays, Phillies and Yankees, the Detroit Tigers train at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland; the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota; and the Pittsburgh Pirates at LECOM Park in Bradenton.

A 2018 economic impact study by the Florida Sports Foundation estimated that spring training games in Florida have a $687 million economic impact on the state and create 7,152 jobs.

In 2019, more than 1.4 million fans attended spring training games in Florida.

A key finding of the survey showed that, of the average total of 6,318 fans per game, 70 percent were from outside the host teams’ local markets with 52 percent from out of state.

The fans alone generate nearly $584 million in economic impact.

The spring training shut-down due to the pandemic was an especially tough blow to the city of Dunedin, which has a population of about 37,000 residents.

The Toronto Blue Jays have been spring training in Dunedin since the ball club was founded in 1977. After making a major investment and signing a 25-year partnership agreement with the Blue Jays, in February Dunedin city and MLB officials celebrated the grand reopening of TD Ballpark at 373 Douglas Ave. and the team's training facility at the Louis A. Vanech Recreation Complex.

The city spent more than $102 million renovating the facilities, the largest construction project in the city's history. The bulk of funding for the project came from Pinellas County tourist development tax money (about $42 million). The state kicked in another $14 million, the city of Dunedin contributed $5.66 million and the ball club invested more than $20 million.

TD Bank was awarded naming rights for the stadium, which most recently was known as Dunedin Stadium.

In addition to bringing in tourism dollars, the Blue Jays are one of the city's major employers with staff living in Dunedin year-round.

Whether the Jays decide to resume spring training in Dunedin or Toronta on July 1 with the other 30 MLB teams, there will likely be no fans allowed in the stands, eliminating the opportunity for the city's businesses to recoup any of their losses.

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This article originally appeared on the Dunedin Patch