And now, a few words about the current state of professional sports in Tampa Bay. Good, good, good. Yep, things are going swell with the local pro sports teams. Things are fun, fun, fun. When you think of where they were, and where they are going, you might suggest that things are looking up, up, up. For the Bucs. For the Bolts. For the Rays. Hip, hip and, well, one more hip. Also, hooray. These days, the three local teams seem to be mirror images of themselves. Is there a town with three finer stars under the age of 25? With smarter coaches? With better front offices? Ah, but who is the best of the best right now? Granted, such evaluations could be completely different in a year, and completely different from that in two. Ladies and gentlemen, start your arguments.
Best young playerShelton's vote: Longoria
Josh Freeman, Bucs: Has there ever been a Tampa Bay athlete who improved more from one season to the next? Freeman, 23, threw more touchdowns and fewer interceptions and had seven more wins .
Steven Stamkos, Lightning: His career is off to a terrific start, with back-to-back 40-plus goal seasons. Stamkos is still only 21, which suggests he has a lot more scoring to do.
Evan Longoria, Rays: At 25, Longoria is the oldest player in the category. He has spent the extra time well with three All-Star appearances, two gold gloves, a silver slugger and a rookie of the year award.
Best old starShelton's vote: St. Louis
Ronde Barber, Bucs: Barber has been a longtime star, and he made the biggest play in team history. Even at 36, he is still in charge of big plays for the Bucs defense.
Marty St. Louis, Lightning: Likewise, St. Louis has been a longtime star, and he scored the biggest goal in team history. The difference? St. Louis is a finalist for league MVP, which would be his second.
Johnny Damon, Rays: Damon has played for six teams, and every one of them was better for it. At 37, he is still a good guy to have in the clubhouse, and if the score is tied, a good guy to have at the plate.
Best importShelton's vote: Roloson
LeGarrette Blount, Bucs: In a ranking of the best players brought in from other teams, Blount is a good place to start. He had a 1,000-yard season after being obtained … for nothing.
Dwayne Roloson, Lightning: Every time he won in these playoffs, Roloson, 41, sent writers scrambling for history books. The midseason trade for him made the Lightning run possible.
Matt Joyce, Rays: Remember when some were convinced the Rays had blown the Edwin Jackson trade? Not so much these days. Joyce is hitting .374 this season. Anyone want a refund?
Raheem Morris, Bucs: Morris was second in the NFL coach of the year voting, and he should have been first. His team went from three wins to 10, and there is enough youth to make the future seem bright.
Guy Boucher, LightNing: Can someone tell me how this guy isn't even a coach of the year finalist? He's young, he's creative, and from his first day here he convinced his players to buy in.
Joe Maddon, Rays: Maddon was third in the manager of the year voting last year after winning it in 2008. He is the manager of a thousand lineups, but his fingerprints are all over the success of his team.
Shelton's vote: Maddon
Best general manager
Mark Dominik, Bucs: The Bucs' drafts look different these days, don't they? So is their ability to find a player on another practice squad. GMs are judged long-term, but Dominik is a find himself.
Steve Yzerman, Lightning: He has been on the job only a year, but it's hard not to like how thorough Yzerman has been. The midseason trades for Dwayne Roloson and Eric Brewer were huge.
Andrew Friedman, Rays: No general manager in any sport has bought so much with so little money. Friedman has a larger body of work than the others listed. Also, he has two titles in baseball's toughest division.
Shelton's vote: Friedman
The Glazer Family, Bucs: They could say more, and they could spend more. Still, the Glazers are the only current local ownership group to have won its sport's largest trophy.
Jeff Vinik, LightNing: No franchise has had as many bad owners as the Lightning. Maybe that's why Vinik's first season is so impressive. He's involved, but he isn't in the way. It's easy to like the guy's future.
Stuart Sternberg, Rays: The Sternberg years have been good ones for the Rays. Still, it's hard to talk about Sternberg without starting a debate about the future of the stadium, and perhaps the team.
Shelton's vote: The Glazers