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Puerto Rico Feels Sting of MLB Game Cancellation Over Zika Fears

18 May, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Island in Grip of Recession Says Its Efforts to Combat the Virus Were Ignored by League

In baseball terms, it was a game-ending foul in the ninth inning.

The late cancellation of a scheduled two-game series in Puerto Rico over fears of Zika virus has not been received well by the island’s tourism agency.

Meet Puerto Rico says that Major League Baseball moved the series without noting the work that had been done to remedy the problem. The series, which would have been played over the Memorial Day weekend between the Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates, would have been a tourism boost to an economy that badly needs it.

Some players on the Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates objected to playing in Puerto Rico, according to reports. That appeared to have been enough for MLB.

“MLB and the Players Association did everything possible to adequately address the concerns raised by players and still play the games in Puerto Rico. Despite extensive efforts, they were unable to develop a workable solution,” MLB said in a statement to Travel Weekly

But Meet Puerto Rico officials say MLB ignored the fact that the island, which has admittedly seen cases of the virus, has used aggressive action to combat mosquitoes.

“Puerto Rico has undertaken major efforts, including collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Puerto Rico Department of Health to combat the virus. Hypothetical projections and worst-case scenarios are scaring our potential visitors. By mid-summer, all but 10 states of the U.S. will be at risk for Zika, including Florida, where this game series is being moved,” said Milton Segarra, Meet Puerto Rico's CEO.

Tourism in Puerto Rico has been growing, according to the article. In the past three months, the island has hosted 95 groups with an estimated attendance of 40,000 people, including approximately 100 baseball scouts and executives. 

As a whole, tourists seem largely unfazed by the spectre of Zika; a recent survey showed that over 96 percent of American travelers indicated fear of catching the disease has not changed their travel plans.

Segarra pointed out that the U.S. men’s national soccer team is scheduled to play in Puerto Rico on May 22.

“Our attendees have followed the instructions provided by the CDC. To our knowledge, none of the attendees has contracted Zika,” Zegarra said in a statement.

“As of May 5, of the almost 3.6 million people who live in Puerto Rico, 730 had Zika and these cases were not in the tourist areas,” Segarra said.

Not all players agreed with MLB’s decision, according to CBS News.

"Go visit my beautiful Puerto Rico !! Still dont understand why MLB cancel the games down in PR! Wow!" tweeted Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, a native of the island.

Originally, Pittsburgh and the Marlins had been scheduled to play the May 30-31 series in Miami when the schedule was first made in 2015. On Nov. 19, MLB said the games would be played in Puerto Rico, the homeland of Pirates Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente and many other big leaguers.

MLB has played several regular-season games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan in the past. MLB said it hoped to play again in Puerto Rico sometime in the future.

On Wednesday, Puerto Rico’s governor, Garcia Padilla, said Miami and Tampa also have Zika cases, and suggested players who asked for the games to be moved "are not very smart." Particularly in light of the fact that Brazil seems to be the current epicenter for the disease and will nonetheless host an Olympics, he added, the cancellation of the series in Puerto Rico, where the risk is far lower, escapes his rationale.

"It's ironic that athletes are willing to go to Brazil to the Olympics and don't want to come to Puerto Rico," Padilla recently told local newspaper El Nuevo Dia.

MLB and the players union will make contributions to help combat Zika in Puerto Rico, said CBS. Also, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and several former players plan to hold youth clinics and events on the island later this month.

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