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Pennsylvania turns away Toronto baseball team’s bid to play this season in Pittsburgh

The Cleveland Indians bat in the top of the first inning during an exhibition baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Saturday, July 18, 2020.

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania health officials told the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday to find a new place to play their home games amid an alarming rise of coronavirus cases in the southwestern corner of the state.

The team hoped to use PNC Park in Pittsburgh for their shortened 2020 season after the Canadian government denied access to their home field at the Rogers Centre over concerns that players would unwittingly transmit the virus across the border when traveling to and from games in the United States.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine shared similar sentiments Wednesday.

“To add travelers to this region for any reason, including for professional sports events, risks residents, visitors and members of both teams,” she told The Associated Press. “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.”

Pittsburgh Pirates President Travis Williams released a statement in support of the administration’s decision, noting that he’s proud of Allegheny County’s attempt to provide the Blue Jays with an option to host their home games. He said he’s “confident” the team will find a new host field, soon.

“This is an unprecedented situation and, therefore, we understand support Governor Tom Wolf’s decision,” he said. “We are in agreement that the safety and health of those in our region must remain paramount.”

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, criticized the state’s decision not to allow the Blue Jays to call Pittsburgh home this season.

“This decision by Governor Wolf and Health Secretary Levine is baffling and disappointing,” Toomey said in a statement on Twitter. “If it is safe for Pittsburgh to host the #Pirates and visiting clubs for thirty games – and it is – then it is safe for Pittsburgh to host the Pirates, the #BlueJays, and visiting teams for nearly 60 games.”

The Toronto squad would have used PNC Park on the days when the Pirates are away from home, meaning the stadium would have been going virtually nonstop from the start of the season, which begins Thursday, through the end of September.

Major League Baseball games are to be played without fans in attendance this year in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and players and staff are required to adhere to additional social distancing and testing measures. The season, which normally begins in late March or early April and consists of 162 games per team, has been reduced to just 60 games because of its late start.

Toomey argued that the measures taken by Major League Baseball to limit the spread of the virus show that Pennsylvania should have allowed the Blue Jays to play in Pittsburgh.

“The Blue Jays in Pittsburgh would have meant more hours for some ballpark workers, increased tax revenue for the city, and a small yet meaningful boost for a number of local businesses struggling during the pandemic,” he said.

The Blue Jays are reportedly considering other options, such as their minor league facility in Florida or the home of their minor league affiliate in Buffalo, New York. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday enthusiastically supported the concept of the Blue Jays playing in Buffalo. The home stadium of the Baltimore Orioles is also reportedly under consideration.

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