Worries about the Zika virus have led to the relocation of two Major League Baseball games from Puerto Rico to Miami, MLB officials announced Friday.
The two-game series between the Miami Marlins and the Pittsburgh Pirates scheduled for Puerto Rico was moved after a number of players on each team objected to playing in San Juan on May 30 and 31, so Commissioner Rob Manfred agreed to move the series.
“Commissioner Manfred and the MLBPA fully understand the disappointment by those in Puerto Rico to the relocation of the games,” the league and players union announced. “MLB and the Players Association did everything possible to adequately address the concerns raised by players and still play the games in Puerto Rico, but despite extensive efforts, they were unable to develop a workable solution.”
The Pirates said the health of members of the organization was most important.
“We are saddened by the circumstances in Puerto Rico and elsewhere that led to this decision,” team officials said. “We are hopeful that the public health institutions can quickly eradicate the health risks that are regrettably affecting the Puerto Rican people. We look forward to an opportunity in the near future to return to Puerto Rico to play before the great Pirates fans who were so excited for these games.”
MLB said officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention briefed players on potential risks and the precautions they should take.
A 70-year-old Puerto Rican man died from complications of the Zika virus in February, the CDC and the Puerto Rico Department of Health said last week. It was the first time in the United States or territories that Zika infection contributed to a death, the CDC said.
The elderly man, who lived in the San Juan metro area, contracted Zika and was treated for symptoms that lasted less than a week, said Tyler Sharp, an epidemiologist at the CDC Dengue Branch in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The CDC said its employees had tested over 6,000 specimens since Puerto Rico became the first U.S. jurisdiction to report local transmission of the Zika virus; 683 showed evidence of current or recent infection. Nine of those cases, or 1%, also showed signs of low blood platelets.
“Because Zika virus is primarily spread by mosquitoes, CDC recommends that travelers to Puerto Rico protect themselves from mosquito bites.” the health agency says on its website.
On Wednesday the governor of Puerto Rico chided the players who spoke to the media about not wanting to play the games.
“Yesterday I criticized hard the baseball players that, using the excuse of Zika, decided not to come and play, to contribute a little bit to the economy in San Juan de Puerto Rico,” Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla told El Nuevo Dia newspaper. “It’s good that (Pirates legend) Roberto Clemente was not like them, someone that we tragically lost, but was a hero, contrary to those who say that because a mosquito — which is not going to do anything, and it’s just a danger to the pregnant women or those woman that are thinking of becoming pregnant — they decided not to come. “
“There is more likelihood of catching Zika in Miami … than in Puerto Rico.”
CNN reached out to the governor on Friday for comment but didn’t get an immediate response.
Miami-Dade County, where the Marlins play, has reports of 42 Zika cases, according to the Florida Department of Health. There have been 105 cases in Florida. All cases are associated with travel, the department said.
Another blow for Puerto Rico
“People were really looking forward to the series and to have the opportunity to attend Major League Baseball games in Puerto Rico,” New York Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran, who is from Puerto Rico, told ESPN. “We all know that Puerto Rico is going through a very difficult time and this is basically just another low blow for the island.”
The U.S. territory has massive economic trouble. Puerto Rico owes more than $70 billion to creditors and on Monday it missed making a $422 million debt payment.
ESPN had scheduled a national broadcast of one of the games, which would have been in a way a de facto tourism advertisement.
The games would have been the first played at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan since 2010, when the Marlins played the New York Mets.