Toronto — 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 denied the Blue Jays’ 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 the state to proceed with the plan to have PNC Park fill in for the Rogers Centre.
“In recent weeks, we have seen a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in southwestern Pennsylvania,” Dr. Rachel Levine, the state’s secretary of health, said in a statement. “To 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.”
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 previously confirmed the talks to host the Blue Jays and sounded ready to welcome them if it could be done safely. Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said he was excited about the PNC Park option and Pirates manager Derek Shelton said he would have no problem with the Blue Jays moving in.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said this week his team has 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 can’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 Major League Baseball, 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 teams’ ability to maintain socially distance is important.
The Blue Jays’ front office has told its players that Pittsburgh and Baltimore are possibilities for where team will hold home games this year, outfielder Randal Grichuk said Tuesday.
Grichuk said the players want to play in a major league stadium but have also been told their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, New York, is a possibility.
“We’ve heard Buffalo. We’re heard Baltimore possibly. We’ve heard Pittsburgh possibly,” Grichuk said before a exhibition game in Boston.
“To this moment I’ve heard not a definite place to play yet. It’s kind of still up in the air. Which is crazy this close to opening the day. Luckily we start on the road. But yeah, that’s what we’re hearing. Possibility Pittsburgh or Baltimore. Worst case, Buffalo.”
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 players have said they strongly prefer to play in a major league park.
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.