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 in 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 did.
|This isn't a surprise, considering Longoria probably has 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 and charismatic, and fans see him as a "good guy." He gets more national exposure than any other 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, St. Louis has always had that little-engine-that-could swagger. He works so hard that you almost forget 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 have not forgotten he was the NHL's MVP the year the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, a title that was possible in part because St. Louis saved the season with an overtime goal in Game 6 of the final. And St. Louis genuinely cares about winning and losing; he wears his emotions on his sleeve more than any other local athlete. Fans eat that up.
|3. Carl Crawford 141 votes (13 percent)
In many ways, Crawford represents what the Rays are all about, and it's no surprise he garnered this many votes. For many fans, Crawford is the Rays. He was with the team 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 team made its worst-to-first run in 2008, but they probably appreciated Crawford being able to enjoy the spoils more than they did for other players. 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, its most recognizable player. Perhaps if the Bucs were better, Barber would rate higher on the list. It shows 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 had been taken three years ago — before the Rays were good and when Lecavalier was putting up a 52-goal, 108-point season — he might have 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 because he's a good husband, too. The music he chooses to have played on the public address system before he bats is sung by his wife, Julianna, a Christian music artist.
|7. Steven Stamkos 61 votes (5 percent)
It seems a little odd that Stamkos finished this low. Maybe it's because he's only 20 years old and has been in town for only two years. But what a season he just had — 51 goals, which tied for the NHL lead. It's the second-highest total in franchise history, and Stamkos was the third-youngest NHL player to crack 50 goals in a season. He also is a typical hockey player, gritty and dedicated on the ice, humble and congenial off 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 Peña 58 votes (5 percent)
Peña is loved by Rays fans, but he probably lost votes to the other Rays players on the list. 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 he's certainly not as big of a piece as Evan Longoria or Carl Crawford, or maybe even Ben Zobrist. Considering that, it makes sense Peña 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 hasn't performed as well as the other Rays in the poll. We believe 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 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 seemed as if the starting quarterback on the local NFL team needed to be considered. But going into the poll, our guess was that Freeman would collect the fewest votes. He has the weakest resume, but he's just a kid. During his rookie season last year, he looked good at times, and at other times he looked like, well, a rookie.