Major League Baseball, Wary of Zika Virus, Moves Games From Puerto Rico


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A game at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in February last year. Major League Baseball has scrapped a series in Puerto Rico amid concerns over the Zika virus.

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Ricardo Arduengo/Associated Press

Concerns over the Zika virus have forced this month’s PiratesMarlins series out of Puerto Rico, with the two games moving to Miami.

Major League Baseball and the players’ union announced Friday that Pittsburgh and Miami will meet May 30-31 at Marlins Park.

The union had asked Commissioner Rob Manfred to relocate the games after several players expressed fears about getting and possibly transmitting the Zika virus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said Zika can cause a birth defect called microcephaly, which results in an unusually small head. The virus is most often spread by mosquito bites, but it also can be spread through sexual intercourse. Puerto Rico has had 785 confirmed Zika cases, including its first death from the virus.

“You trust the process that the union and the league is going to do what’s best for everyone and make sure they take care of everyone,” Marlins Manager Don Mattingly said before Friday night’s game against Philadelphia.

The C.D.C. had spoken to players and staff from both teams about the potential risks.

“Go visit my beautiful Puerto Rico !! Still dont understand why MLB cancel the games down in PR! Wow!” tweeted Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who is from the island.

In a release by the league and the union, Manfred said, “players who objected to the trip because of their specific family situations should not be forced to travel to Puerto Rico.”

“Because too many regulars on both clubs fell into that category, Commissioner Manfred had no choice but to relocate the games,” it said.

The Pirates and the Marlins were originally scheduled to play the series in Miami. But on Nov. 19, the league said the games would be played in Puerto Rico, the homeland of the Pirates Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente and many other big leaguers.

Several regular-season games have been played at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, and the league said it hoped to play in Puerto Rico again.

“It’s ironic that athletes are willing to go to Brazil to the Olympics and don’t want to come to Puerto Rico,” Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla recently told local newspaper El Nuevo Dia.

Brazil is at the center of the Zika outbreak, putting Olympic host Rio de Janeiro in the spotlight. About 10,500 athletes and 500,000 foreign tourists are expected for South America’s first Olympics.

Nothing has been canceled at the Olympics, and nearly all athletes still plan to compete.

On Wednesday, García Padilla said Miami and Tampa also have Zika cases, and suggested that players who asked for the baseball games to be moved “are not very smart.”

The decision to shift the games from Puerto Rico is another blow to an island mired in recession and unable to pay $72 billion in public debt. The United States territory has been suffering through more than a decade of economic decline since Congress phased out tax cuts that made the island a center for pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturing.

Puerto Rico missed nearly $370 million on a bond payment Monday and officials warned of worse to come without relief from Congress. García Padilla said he had no choice but to suspend the debt payment to avoid cutting essential public services such as schools and medical care.

Major League Baseball and the players’ union will make contributions to help combat Zika in Puerto Rico. Also, Manfred and several former players plan to hold youth clinics and events on the island later this month.

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