By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - A pair of Major League Baseball games scheduled to be played in Puerto Rico later this month will be relocated to Miami due to growing concerns among players over the Zika virus in the area.
The games between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins originally scheduled to be held in San Juan on May 30-31 have been relocated to Marlins Park, MLB and the Players Association said in a joint statement on Friday.
MLB and the Players Association said they "did everything possible" to address the concerns and keep the games in Puerto Rico, but despite extensive efforts were unable to develop a workable solution.
Zika, a virus known to cause the birth defect microcephaly, first began spreading in Puerto Rico in December and there are now nearly 700 confirmed cases of Zika on the Caribbean island.
Last week, health officials confirmed the first U.S. death of a patient infected with the Zika virus in Puerto Rico.
Players from both clubs received briefings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding risks associated with the Zika virus, and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred decided that players who objected to the trip should not be forced to travel to Puerto Rico.
"Commissioner (Rob) Manfred and the MLBPA fully understand the disappointment by those in Puerto Rico to the relocation of the games," the joint statement said. "MLB looks forward to returning to play games in Puerto Rico in the near future."
The games had been set for San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium to mark Roberto Clemente Day, an MLB tribute honoring the late Pirates Hall of Famer and Puerto Rico native.
In lieu of the games, MLB will stage several youth baseball and community events in Puerto Rico later this month, which will be attended by Manfred and some former MLB players.
Although deaths from Zika are rare, the Puerto Rico death "highlights the possibility of severe cases ... that might lead to severe disease or death," researchers said in a report published by the CDC.
The World Health Organization declared Zika a global health emergency on Feb. 1. In addition to microcephaly, the agency says there is a strong scientific consensus that Zika can cause Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome.
Zika, primarily spread by mosquitoes, has hit more than 40 countries and territories with Brazil, host of this year's Summer Olympics, so far the hardest hit.
In Brazil, Zika has been linked to 1,198 confirmed cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to severe developmental problems in babies.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)