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Blue Jays play Thursday games but MLB suspends operations

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Major League Baseball took its time on Thursday, but eventually followed the lead of other sporting leagues by shutting down for the time being.

Though the Toronto Blue Jays played split-squad games in Bradenton against Pittsburgh and at home in Dunedin against the Canadian junior national team on Thursday afternoon, you won’t see the Jays in action again any time soon.

“Following a call with the 30 Clubs, and after consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. today announced that MLB has decided to suspend Spring Training games and to delay the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic,” MLB announced on Thursday afternoon.

“This action is being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs and our millions of loyal fans.MLB will continue to evaluate ongoing events leading up to the start of the season. Guidance related to daily operations and workouts will be relayed to Clubs in the coming days. As of 4:00 p.m. (ET) today, forthcoming Spring Training games have been cancelled, and 2020 World Baseball Classic Qualifier games in Tucson, Arizona have been postponed indefinitely.”

The NHL had suspended its season earlier Thursday, joining Major League Soccer, the NBA (the first to suspend a season, on Wednesday night after Utah Jazz all-star Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus) and pretty much every other sporting league or tour.

“It’s a unique situation,” Blue Jays pitcher Jordan Romano said after he started and pitched an inning on Thursday. “I never thought we’d be in this situation. First and foremost it’s just keeping people safe. It wouldn’t affect guys like me that much, if I get it it’s not that big of a deal, but just thinking my grandparents were down here a week ago and they’re still in Florida so it’s just thinking of the older population and stuff like that.

“It’s definitely the right thing to do. Going forward, I really don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know how long we’re going to be delayed for, it’s just an unfortunate situation all around.”

Earlier in the day, Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo addressed a number of questions about coronavirus precautions and potential measures looming down the line before they were handed down.

“As a sports person, just like you guys (the media) I feel bad and sad that this happened but like, we’re following MLB guidelines and things keep changing from day to day so but again, as a fan, of course, I’m saddened by what’s going on but again, we’ll follow MLB, whatever they say,” Montoyo said before anything became official.

The second-year Jays manager said that even when the NBA was the only league to act, his players were talking a lot about what was coming.

“Some of the guys are talking just like we all are, like as sports fans … I think it’s a distraction for everybody, sports fans and everybody who loves sports. So we all feel the same way,” he said.

Former Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, now with the Detroit Pistons, had similar thoughts.

“It’s something that’s unprecedented,” Casey told The Athletic. “It’s always been where you could lean on sports to ease your nerves or ease the situation. But now, we’re just like everyone else.”

Montoyo said earlier Thursday that it was up to individual players whether they wanted to interact and sign autographs with fans or simply hand them pre-signed cards. Several Jays were still signing autographs during the game. But that all became moot hours later.

Before all that though, the players had expressed no concerns about heading to Bradenton to play or competing in Dunedin.

“No, I haven’t heard that. No, today, the bus left. Everyone’s ready to play. I haven’t heard that one,” Montoyo said.

Montoyo had stuck around instead of going to Bradenton with most of his more established players because “I really want to see our prospects.”

MLB said various contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule have been prepared and will be announced at “an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.”

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