Tampa Bay's most popular athlete is ...
Who is the most popular athlete in Tampa Bay? For the past week, we've asked you, the fans, to pick your favorite among 10 choices with a poll on our Web site, TampaBay.com. More than 1,100 of you (1,126 to be exact) responded and Rays third baseman Evan Longoria was the overwhelming winner, picking up one-third of the vote. Here are the results, with our take on how and why the athletes finished where they finished. Click below to see the list.
1. Evan Longoria
372 votes, 33 percent
This really isn't a surprise considering he has probably performed the best of everyone on this list (although Steven Stamkos fans would make an argument for their guy). Longoria joined the Rays in 2008 and has been one of baseball’s best players since his first major-league game. Plus, he's young, good-looking, charismatic and fans see him as a "good guy.'' He already has more national exposure than any local athlete and he already could be called the most popular Rays player ever.
2. Marty St. Louis
175 votes, 16 percent
We're a tad surprised St. Louis finished this high, but it's a testament to how much fans appreciate hard work, tenacity and dedication. Because of his small frame, he has always had that little-engine-that-could swagger. He works so hard that you almost forget just how skilled he is. No question he has been the Lightning's best and most consistent producer over the past six years or so. And fans did not forget that he was the NHL's MVP the year the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, which was only possible because St. Louis saved the season with his overtime goal in Game 6 of that year's finals. Finally, St. Louis genuinely cares about winning and losing; he wears his emotions more than any local athlete. Fans eat that up.
3. Carl Crawford
141 votes, 13 percent
Crawford represents what the Rays are all about and it's no surprise that he garnered this many votes. For many fans, Crawford is the Rays. He was here during the dog days and never complained or whined. He simply worked hard and helped the team get better. Rays fans were certainly happy for the players when the Rays made their worst-to-first run in 2008, but probably appreciated Crawford finally being able to enjoy the spoils more than any other player. Maybe, too, fans wanted to let him know how much he's appreciated before he makes a decision on whether to remain in Tampa Bay after his contract runs out this year.
4. Ronde Barber
124 votes, 11 percent
Of all the stars on the Bucs' Super Bowl team (and the good teams leading up to the championship), Barber is the lone holdover. These days, as the Bucs try to rebuild, Barber remains the voice and face of the team, it's most recognizable player. Perhaps if the Bucs were better, Barber would rate higher on the list. It shows just how well-liked Barber is to finish fourth despite being on a team that isn't particularly well-liked at the moment.
5. Vinny Lecavalier
86 votes, 8 percent
If this poll was taken three years ago -- before the Rays were good and when Lecavalier was putting up a 52-goal, 108-point season -- it's possible he would've finished No. 1. His numbers have dipped the past couple of years and his name is constantly churning in the trade rumor mill, but he remains the face of the franchise. He also is a favorite among fans for his ambitious charity work and constant presence in the community.
6. Ben Zobrist
80 votes, 7 percent
What's not to like about Zobrist? He came out of nowhere. He is willing to play anywhere he is asked. He will bat anywhere in the order. You never hear a peep from him. All he does is go out and scatter baseballs all over (and beyond) the field with his bat, and make the All-Star team. He probably picked up a few votes, too, because he's a good husband. The music he chooses to have played on the public address before he bats is sung by his wife, Julianna, a Christian music artist.
7. Steven Stamkos
61 votes, 5 percent
It's surprising Stamkos finished this low. Maybe it's because he's only 20 years old and has only been in town for two years. But what a season he just had -- 51 goals, which tied for the NHL lead. It's the second-most in franchise history and Stamkos was the third youngest player to ever crack the 50-goal mark in a season. He also is your typical hockey player -- gritty and dedicated on the ice, humble and congenial off of it. If we do this poll in another year or two, we would expect Stamkos to be among the top two or three.
8. Carlos Pena
58 votes, 5 percent
Pena is loved by Rays fans, but he probably lost votes to the other Rays players on the list, like Longoria and Crawford. In addition, he has taken a few slight steps back over the past couple of seasons. Three years ago, he was the breakout star of the Rays with 46 homers. Today, he remains a key piece of the Rays puzzle, but certainly not as big as Longoria, Crawford and, maybe, Zobrist. So when you consider that, it makes sense that he is where he is on the list.
9. B.J. Upton
19 votes, 2 percent
Again, so many Rays are on the list that votes undoubtedly were split and Upton simply hasn't performed as well as the other Rays in this poll. It's our belief that some fans still see Upton as occasionally lackadaisical on the field, but we would argue that is unfair. Maybe the old Upton deserved that reputation, but not the Upton of the past year or two. He plays hard and cares immensely. Unfortunately, he just hasn't put up the numbers many expected him to post, partly because of injuries.
10. Josh Freeman
10 votes, 1 percent
It probably wasn't fair to include Freeman on the list, but it seems as if the starting quarterback on the local NFL team needs to be included for consideration. But going into the poll, the guess was Freeman would collect the fewest votes. He has the weakest resume, but he's just a kid. During his rookie NFL season last year, he looked good at times and at other times he looked like, well, a rookie.