North America’s Major League Baseball (MLB) has pledged to stage regular-season games in Puerto Rico as part of an initiative with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) to donate $5m (€4.4m) in funding to support grassroots efforts on the island.
The $5m sum will be donated over the course of the next collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLBPA, the league confirmed. The current agreement expires on December 1.
As well as regular-season games, MLB plans on staging “special events” in Puerto Rico to raise awareness of the league in the territory. No dates for the games or events have been set.
"Puerto Rico's outstanding baseball tradition has produced great Major League players and fans of our game," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. "We look forward to returning to the island to play regular-season games and supporting initiatives that will allow Puerto Rican kids to play baseball."
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark added: “This announcement provides us with an opportunity to honour Puerto Rico's long-standing commitment to the game in a way that will allow the sport to flourish there in the future.
“Puerto Rico has played an important role throughout the history of our great game, and efforts to help expand the sport's popularity and participation there will benefit the entire baseball community.”
MLB teams the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins had been due to face each other in Puerto Rico as part of a two-game series at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in the city of San Juan on May 30-31. However, due to concerns over the Zika virus on the island, the games were moved to Marlins Park, the Marlins’ home stadium.
A number of Pirates and Marlins players had expressed fears over the virus, which led to the MLBPA requesting that Manfred seek a new location for the games. A number of MLB-organised youth and community-based events were held in Puerto Rico in May, while the league also donated funds to help rid the island of Zika.