After a few days of silence from the Toronto Blue Jays as their summer training camp got underway, manager Charlie Montoyo shed some light Wednesday on the team’s workout sessions and preparations for the 60-game regular season that’s fast approaching.
Montoyo said the players arrived in great physical condition but his biggest challenge will be getting them in “baseball shape” ahead of the July 24 opener at Tampa Bay. An intrasquad game is planned for Thursday evening at Rogers Centre.
“We have a young team and they’re hungry to play and they’re ready to go,” Montoyo said. ”Everybody looks really good and I’m proud to tell you that. I’m really happy about that.”
Hitters started taking live batting practice Tuesday as they try to build up at-bats in the shortened timeframe. Montoyo said there’s a heightened emphasis on individual work as the team determines who will make the 30-man cut for Opening Day.
Montoyo confirmed that about 46 players are on hand at Rogers Centre and about 12 others are working out in Florida. The team’s spring training facility is in Dunedin, Fla.
Most players arrived in Toronto via charter flight on Sunday night. The team has said a second charter is expected to fly to the Ontario capital later this week, but Montoyo did not have specifics on timing.
The Blue Jays have yet to comment on reports that multiple players and team staffers recently tested positive for COVID-19.
According to several reports, the latest case involved a single player in Florida. The positive result forced 12 players to remain in Dunedin, according to USA Today.
Players need to be cleared with two negative COVID-19 tests to join training camp.
Montoyo sounded excited on the half-hour conference call with media members, who have not been allowed into Rogers Centre this week. Stadium entry was scheduled to begin on Thursday afternoon but access for reporters will be limited to a press area on the stadium’s 200 level.
There was plenty of baseball banter during the question-and-answer session and a few COVID-19 related questions mixed in. Montoyo said he laid out a message to his team at the start of camp.
“There’s going to be two types of teams,” he said. “There’s going to be the team that’s going to work together, follow the guidelines, stay healthy, and that’s going to help you win more games. And then there’s going to be the teams that are not going to follow the guidelines, complain about everything, lose focus and not have a good year.
“So they know that and our guys are focused. They’re ready to play and they’re following the guidelines. They’re really happy to be in Toronto and we’re ready to go.”
How long they’ll remain in the city remains uncertain.
The Blue Jays’ first home game is scheduled for July 29 against the Washington Nationals but a decision on whether Rogers Centre can be used for the regular season has not been made.
The team has expressed its desire to play in Toronto but as was required for training camp, approval would be needed from government and health authorities. Word is expected soon but there is no firm timeline in place.
As Major League Baseball’s lone Canadian team, the Blue Jays face an additional hurdle because of border and quarantine rules during the pandemic. During training camp, players and team staff are isolating from the general public in a closed environment at the stadium and hotel attached to the venue.
If Rogers Centre is ruled out for games, the team has said it would likely shift focus to TD Ballpark in Dunedin. However, that has become an increasingly undesirable option given the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Florida.
“To tell you the truth, going to Florida, when you see the Florida cases, that made me nervous of course as a human being,” Montoyo said. “But I knew we had a chance to come to Toronto. It’s great for us to be here.”
The Blue Jays signed two draft picks from this year’s First-Year Player Draft Wednesday including fifth overall draft pick Austin Martin, a shortstop from Vanderbilt University.
Martin led all NCAA Division I players in runs, and had the highest batting average among all batters in the Southeastern Conference with .392.
Fourth-round pick Nick Frasso, from Loyola Marymount University, was also signed.
Also Wednesday, the Blue Jays and the Jays Care foundation announced a $7.5-million commitment in 2020 to support Canadian families in underserved communities.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2020.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press