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Blue Jays' first Buffalo opponent is bitten by COVID outbreak

Michael Mroziak

The Toronto Blue Jays' plans to play games in Buffalo beginning next month may have hit a snag, with Major League Baseball cancelling some games after word that members of the Miami Marlins have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

The Marlins are scheduled to play the Blue Jays Aug. 11 at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, as part of MLB's plan to hold games without spectators at facilities across the nation. 

On Monday, MLB canceled games in Miami and Philadelphia after 14 Marlins players and coaches reportedly tested positive for coronavirus. After completing a series against the Marlins over the weekend, the Phillies were to face the New York Yankees Monday.

Officially, neither the Marlins or Blue Jays have  issued any statement about  the Buffalo game, but Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo addressed the Marlins' situation during a Monday afternoon conference call.

He expressed his concern for Marlins players and stated while the Jays players have done well with COVID-related safety compliance, they continue to be warned that what is happening among the Marlins could happen anywhere.

It's been a constant topic of discussion.

"The moment we left Canada, there was concern. We've got to follow the guidelines. It's not gonna be easy," he said. "We're going to Florida that's a hot spot so yeah we talked about it all the time and we meet with the coaches every day and make sure we kept communicating with the guys just to be careful and follow the guidance."

Earlier this month, the Canadian federal government denied the Blue Jays permission to play their home games in Rogers Centre, citing concerns for potential COVID risks created by traveling to and from the United States. The international border remains closed to most citizens.

The Blue Jays' spring training facility in Dunedin was all but ruled out as an option when Florida became a COVID-19 hotspot. Several Blue Jays players and staff members reportedly tested positive for the virus last month while in the state, according to the Canadian Press.

The Buffalo Bisons and city and county officials encouraged the Blue Jays to utilize Sahlen Field in Buffalo, which is home to the Blue Jays' top minor league affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons. Minor League Baseball has been cancelled this year, creating the opening for spectator-free games in Buffalo.

But the players had indicated a preference for playing in another major league facility, and the Blue Jays attempted to secure an agreement to share PNC Park with the Pittsburgh Pirates. That deal fell apart when Pennsylvania health officials blocked the move. The Jays then attempted to reach a similar agreement to share Baltimore's Camden Yards with the Orioles, but that too was nixed by Maryland health officials.

Last Friday, the Blue Jays and Buffalo Bisons announced they had reached an agreement to use Sahlen Field, once the Buffalo ballpark was prepared to satisfy major league infastructure standards including lighting, clubhouse space and batting practice facilities.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz raised concerns in a tweet Monday morning.

The New York State Department of Health issued the following statement Monday afternoon: "As we have throughout this unprecedented pandemic, DOH will continue to monitor public health metrics, review data, and use science to guide our decisions on this evolving situation."

The Athletic, ESPN, and NBC Sports Philadelphia reported Marlins members tested tested positive for the coronavirus. The Athletic also reported team officials were aware that four players had tested positive before Sunday's game in Philadelphia. Two infectious disease specialists were quoted as saying the positive cases were a sign of a 'clear outbreak.'

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