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9 hours ago

Axios Tampa Bay

Welcome to Thursday.

☀️ Mostly sunny today, 78/56. Check in on your poor in-laws up north.

Sounds like: "Spotless Mind," by Jhené Aiko.

Today's newsletter is 940 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: "Struggling in silence is not OK"

Photo: Tampa Bay Rays/Twitter

In the aftermath of Rays bullpen catcher Jean Ramirez's death by suicide, people are wondering if the Rays — and MLB as a whole — may have a mental health problem.

What's happening: The 28-year-old's body was found last Monday near his home in Fort Worth, Texas, and ruled a suicide a few days later.

  • In a statement released through the Rays, Ramirez's family said they want to honor his life by helping other families.
  • "The loss of our son has been the most excruciating experience we have lived. Unfortunately, we sometimes don't see the signs. Struggling in silence is not OK."

Flashback: Rays relief pitchers Ryan Sherriff and Ryan Thompson both took breaks last season for their mental health, citing difficulties stemming from pandemic shutdowns.

  • Sherriff told Sports Illustrated: "As soon as I toed the rubber, I felt nothing. No emotions. No adrenaline. Nothing. I thought, Wow, what am I doing here if I don't feel a damn thing? We're winning 2–0. It's the seventh inning. That's when I knew: 'I need to leave.' "
  • Thompson told the Tampa Bay Times that, just days after pitching in the World Series, he had a breakdown thinking about the sacrifices of his career. "I had all these revelations. … I had basically given up everything I could give up for this baseball dream."

Zoom out: It's not just the Rays. Several other MLB players took leaves of absence last year for similar reasons.

  • Within days of Sherriff's announcement, Angels pitcher Ty Buttrey retired from baseball and both Phillies outfielder Adam Hasely and reliever Chris Devenski took breaks from their teams.

Context: The problem seems to be starting in the minor leagues, where players have historically faced poverty-level pay and poor housing while fighting for their chance to make the majors, leading to a "mental health crisis," per ESPN.

  • White Sox prospect Jake Burger recently spoke to The Athletic about how he wants to change the game for mental health in baseball by opening up about years of anxiety and depression.

What to watch: Beyond the announcement of Ramirez's death, not much about mental health in the sport is being said by MLB or major sports media outlets that cover it .

  • Representatives for the Rays and the MLB player's union didn't immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
  • In the midst of all of this, MLB is still in labor negotiations after locking out players in December. It's looking like spring training could be postponed.
2. Bill to ban under-21 sales of kratom advances

A pile of kratom leaves. Photo: Vachira Vachira/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A bill that would ban the sale of kratom to anyone younger than 21 and regulate the industry advanced in a Florida Senate committee this week.

  • A mild stimulant that comes from a tree, kratom is typically brewed into a tea or taken via gel capsule.

What's new: Senate Bill 1076, sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, would set up quality-control measures and require kratom sellers to label products with directions.

What they're saying: "We just want to eliminate the bad actors, and those people that are turning the product into something that it's not," said Gruters, per the Times/Herald.

3. Bringing Sicily to Tampa

Temple of Concord in Agrigento, Italy. Photo: Claudio Ciabochi/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The largest local Italian-American organizations are planning a three-day showcase of Italian imports from Agrigento, Tampa's sister city, for the first weekend in February.

Why it matters: There's been a steady migratory flow to Tampa from Agrigento, on the southern coast of Sicily, Italy, for more than a century.

  • Locals tell us about 90% of Tampa’s Italian-American community trace their ancestry to towns in the province.

Yes, but: They want to clear a path for even more Italian businesses to operate in Tampa.

  • "You start a spark to create a fire," says Mario Plazza, who came from Agrigento in 1965 and later founded Tile & Stone of Italy, now one of Florida's largest Italian tile importers. "We want to help more of these companies set up shop over here."

If you go: Italy Expo 2022 will feature things like cooking demonstrations, wine and olive oil tastings, Italian fashions and home decor.

Now hiring: New job openings

📖 Turn the page with these new postings on our Job Board.

  1. Managing Director at AmeriLife.
  2. Senior Network Engineer at Bold Business.
  3. Product Designer at A-LIGN.

Want more opportunities? Check out our Job Board.

Hiring? Post a job.

4. The Pulp: Tonight you're lime completely

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Car drivers hit and killed more pedestrians in Sarasota County in 2021 than in 2020. (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

💦 Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg are the two most humid cities in the U.S. (Tampa Bay Times)

🚨 A 63-year-old St. Petersburg man was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for fraudulently collecting over $800,000 in COVID-19 relief funds. (Associated Press)

🤔 County Commissioner Scott Carnahan has a homestead exemption on a property in Georgia but says he lives in Citrus County. (Citrus County Chronicle)

Quote du jour:
"I thought maybe five or six people would respond, but my inbox was flooded. ... I think it will tickle his heart."
— Housekeeper Michelle Jackson, who posted on Facebook that she'd like 100 people to mail Word War II vet Bart Corricelli cards for his 100th birthday, per the Gulfport Gabber.
5. Where in Tampa Bay? Under there!

Photo: Ben Montgomery/Axios

Three beers for those who knew that yesterday's Where in Tampa Bay photo was taken in front of Mahuffer's on Indian Shores.

  • Y'all would know those dirty undies anywhere.
  • Next round is on us. Watch your head. Don't *%#@ with the cat.

Congrats to Chamos, Tristyn, Brent, Kathy, Harry, Sue, Scott, Marci, Martha, Andy, Mark, Rob and Rita!

  • Mark was first at 6:34am.
  • We'll select a winner at random to get some sweet Axios swag.

Bonus: From the classified ads in the St. Petersburg Times on Jan. 1, 1974.

St. Petersburg Times, courtesy of newspaper.com
6. 1 chart to go
Data: Nielsen; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fall in the middle of NFL teams in terms of market size.

  • Wonder how many of those 2 million homes will be tuned in at 3pm Sunday when the Bucs face the Los Angeles Rams?

🎧 Selene is listening to "Root of Evil: The True Story of the Hodel Family and the Black Dahlia." 🥀

😊 Ben is learning all about Gross National Happiness. 😊

Tell your Sicilian tile dealer to subscribe.