By: Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
The future of the Blue Jays in Dunedin may be in doubt beyond 2017 but don’t tell the mayor that.
With pitchers and catchers slated to show up Monday, mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said in an 8 a.m. interview Saturday that she and her council will meet with team officials next week to begin what will likely be a series of discussions about what it will take to keep the team there.
“We are meeting with the Jays to get a better understanding of their needs,’’ Bujalski said. “We will find out what they want. We don’t know what their needs are.’’
And what the Jays want will be major renovations to a facility that is dated compared to the rest of the spring-training sites in Florida and Arizona. The Blue Jays have trained in Dunedin since they joined the American League in 1977.
Citing a confidentiality agreement between the city of Dunedin, the state of Florida and the Jays, Bujalski was reluctant to get into details about what the cost of renovations would be or get into a discussion about specific issues.
“I think we will be able to partner to create a facility that is appropriate for the Jays,’’ Bujalski said. “To make a long story short, the Blue Jays are important to the city of Dunedin and to our region. I think the Blue Jays want to be here and we want them to be here. We are going to do everything we can do to assure a long-term relationship with the Blue Jays.’’
If the Blue Jays don’t want to stay in Dunedin, then president Mark Shapiro needs to find another site, either in Florida or Arizona. When he was with the Cleveland Indians, Shapiro and team president Paul Dolan helped engineer the move of that team out of Winter Haven, Florida in 2009 to a shared facility in Goodyear, Ariz. with the Cincinnati Reds.
Shapiro no doubt will look at other potential sites in Arizona but will check out an opportunity in Port St. Lucie, Fla. which the Jays could share with the New York Mets. There is a large parcel of undeveloped land surrounding the Mets’ park that could be used for another spring-training team.
The Atlanta Braves want to leave what was once a state-of-the-art facility at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista near Orlando and that will be something Shapiro will look at. Fort Lauderdale is another possibility and is available since no team has trained there since the Orioles left for Sarasota after the 2009 session.
The sheer economic impact of losing the Jays would be huge. Bujalski revealed that the amount of revenue generated for six weeks of spring training in Pinellas County for the Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies in nearby Clearwater is $80-million: restaurants, motels, hotels, game tickets, grocery stores and the like.
“Spring training is very important to us,’’ Bujalski told me. “This is our 40th spring training. We’re very excited about it. March 2nd is our home opener and our entire council will be there to welcome our Canadian fans.’’
Despite the less than desirable clubhouses and adjoining facilities in Dunedin, Bujalski wanted to make this point clear: “I will tell you this that Sports Illustrated identified Dunedin Stadium as one of the top five locations to view a spring-training game. You’re right there on top of the play.’’
In parting, I told mayor Bujalski: “Good luck with the negotiations and I hope things work out.’’