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, making it the second 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 Pittsburgh Pirates had been waiting to see if they'd receive permission from Pennsylvania officials to proceed with the plan to have PNC Park fill in for Rogers Centre.
The decision leaves the Blue Jays still looking for a home. One option includes going to the city of each scheduled opponent and playing as the home team, sources told ESPN's Buster Olney.
"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 past two weeks, compared to 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 reduce 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 familiar with the matter who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity 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 prepare a proposal for the state to review. The state decided to pass.
"This is an unprecedented situation and, therefore, we understand and support Gov. Tom Wolf's decision," 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."
They'd better hurry. Toronto opens the regular season on Friday at Tampa Bay. The "home" opener is scheduled for July 29 against the World Series champion Washington Nationals.
"Everybody would love to have a home game, but that might not be an option," Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said Wednesday. "Who knows? We could be playing games on the road the whole year. I've never gone through this, not with two days to go, not knowing where you're going to play home games."
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said this week that his team has more than five contingency plans for a home stadium and is in talks with other teams. He declined to name them.
Atkins said that if the Blue Jays can't find a major league park, their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, New York, will be their most likely site for home games. But based on what the players want and the collaboration with 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 are the priority, so the ability to be socially distant is important.
The team was considering playing home games at its training facility in Dunedin, Florida, but Florida is among the states that are virus hot spots.
If a major league stadium can't be found, the Blue Jays could be facing a 60-game road trip, playing opposing teams in their ballparks instead of a home park.
"Of course, it is difficult because there are still uncertainties. We just have to remember that we're going to grind for two months instead of a regular, 162-game season. If we can rally together and work as a team, I think we should get by fine," pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu said.
"This is something that we've never had to deal with in the past. Honestly, this season is all about new experiences and overcoming them. It's going to be difficult, but I do trust my teammates. I think we'll have to rally around just because it's an unprecedented season."