Blue Jays set to host 15,000 fans in return to Toronto


Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro has a greater appreciation for what Toronto means to his team after being forced to spend nearly two years away.

"Home is Toronto and home is Canada, for our organization and for our players," he said on a video call on Saturday. "It's more crystal clear than it ever has been."

The Jays are finally set to return to Toronto after the federal government granted the club a national interest travel exemption on Friday. The move will allow the team to host games at Rogers Centre starting on July 30.

Shapiro said the team has also received approval to treat the stadium as an outdoor venue and allow up to 15,000 fans at games, about 30 per cent of the stadium's 49,286-person capacity. He said the retractable roof will be open as long as the weather allows, and additional measures have been taken to ensure proper ventilation.

The stadium has also undergone renovations, including new turf, a new sound system, new batting cages and cosmetic changes to the 100-level concourse.

The Jays last played at Rogers Centre on Sept. 29, 2019, when they closed out the season with an 8-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

The ensuing 670 days haven't been easy, Shapiro said.

"It's been an incredibly challenging at times last year-and-a-half, two years," he said. "But one that I think is going to be an important part of who we are as a team and an organization going forward."

The Jays played last season's 60-game condensed schedule out of Buffalo, N.Y., and started this year's campaign in Dunedin, Fla., before relocating to Buffalo.

While the team has missed playing a "true home game," the experience has strengthened ties with the community that's home to the club's triple-A affiliate, Shapiro said.

"We're going to leave [Buffalo], I think, having built a bond with the fans here that we have never had before to this level," he said. "We're going to leave here knowing that the player development conditions here are better than they've ever been and knowing that the roots of a long-term relationship have been reinforced, cemented and will have greater meaning, historic meaning, than they've ever had in the past."