TORONTO (AP) – The state of Pennsylvania won’t allow the Toronto Blue Jays to play at PNC Park in Pittsburgh amid the coronavirus pandemic, health officials announced Wednesday, becoming the latest jurisdiction to say no to the team as the baseball season begins this week.
Canada already had denied the Blue Jaysâ€™ request to play in Toronto because the regular-season schedule would require frequent travel back and forth from the United States, where COVID-19 cases are surging.
The Blue Jays and Pirates had been waiting to see if they got permission from Pennsylvania officials to proceed with the plan to have PNC Park fill in for the Rogers Centre.
â€œIn recent weeks, we have seen a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in southwestern Pennsylvania,â€ Dr. Rachel Levine, the state’s secretary of health, said in a statement. â€œTo add travelers to this region for any reason, including for professional sports events, risks residents, visitors and members of both teams. We know that this virus does not discriminate, and can even make professional athletes very sick. We are committed to protecting the health and well-being of all Pennsylvanians.â€
Canada has flattened the epidemic curve. But the number of new confirmed cases of the coronavirus reported daily by Allegheny County – which includes Pittsburgh and 1.2 million residents – has increased tenfold in the last two weeks, compared with the two weeks in June before what officials there called an alarming spike in cases.
Health officials have blamed the spread primarily on bars and restaurants that were ignoring social-distancing orders, as well as residents returning from travel to virus hot spots. To clamp down on the spread, health officials have issued a cascade of orders shutting down bars and restaurants, curtailing dine-in service and recommending that people returning from certain states self-isolate at home for 14 days.
The agreement to share the stadium with the Pirates was pending state approval, according to two officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity earlier Wednesday because they were not authorized to speak ahead of the government decision.
Pirates President Travis Williams said the organization worked closely with city officials to get a proposal ready for the state to review. The state ultimately decided to pass.
â€œThis is an unprecedented situation and, therefore, we understand and support Gov. Tom Wolfâ€™s decision,â€ Williams said in a statement. “We are in agreement that the safety and health of those in our region must remain paramount. We are confident that the great people within the Blue Jays organization, working with Major League Baseball, will secure another option very soon.â€
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said this week his team had more than five contingency plans for a home stadium and was in talks with other teams. He declined to name them.
Atkins said if the Blue Jays canâ€™t find a major league park, their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, New York, would be their most likely site for home games. But based on what the players want and the collaboration they are getting from other teams and MLB Atkins said the Blue Jays are focused on major league parks, as long as they can be safe. He said health and safety is the priority, so the ability to be socially distant without comprising other teamsâ€™ ability to maintain socially distance is important.
Toronto begins the season at Tampa Bay on Friday and is scheduled to play its first home game on July 29 against defending champion Washington.
The team had been considering playing home games at its training facility in Dunedin, Florida, but that is among the states that are virus hot spots.
Levy reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Graves reported from Pittsburgh.
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