Whether you think the face of Tampa Bay sports is Jameis Winston, Steven Stamkos, Kevin Kiermaier or none of the above, eventually someone else will rise to become the unquestioned star of local athletics.
Here’s the case for (and against) a few promising contenders, from least to most likely:
Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov
Pro: Only two athletes in Tampa Bay sports history have earned league MVP honors: Kucherov and Martin St. Louis. When Kucherov accepted the Hart Memorial Trophy — as well as the Ted Lindsay and Art Ross Trophies — at the NHL Awards Night, fans got a chance to see the star without a helmet. He looks good in a tuxedo. What’s not to love?
Con: Kucherov, a native Russian, speaks English but he seldom offers scintillating post-game comments. He’s reticent to comment on his play whether it’s good or bad, and the team has seldom promoted his off-ice personality.
NASCAR driver Aric Almirola
Pro: Homegrown talent (Hillsborough High alumnus), finished fifth last season on powerhouse Stewart-Haas Racing and has a Cuban-American heritage that resonates.
Con: NASCAR’s popularity has slipped too much to make him a household name and the area’s most recognizable athlete.
LPGA pro Brittany Lincicome
Pro: Two-time major winner is one of only a handful of women to play in a tournament on the men’s tour.
Con: Eight career wins doesn’t move the needle enough for the Seminole native.
USF athletic director Michael Kelly
Pro: Can be a transformative figure by building an on-campus stadium and getting the Bulls into a major conference in the next wave of realignment.
Con: Even an ultra-successful AD would have trouble becoming the biggest sports name in town.
Bucs defensive back Vernon Hargreaves
Pro: Three levels of local ties as a former five-star recruit at Wharton High, All-America performer at Florida and Bucs’ first-rounder.
Con: Hasn’t produced enough at the NFL to warrant serious consideration.
Mets first baseman Pete Alonso
Pro: Plant High alumnus and former Gator looks like the National League’s rookie of the year, with more honors to come.
Con: Can you be the face of your hometown while playing 1,100 miles away?
Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin
Pro: Lakewood High alumnus has an inspirational story this market (and any other) should be proud to claim, plus the college production to back it up.
Con: Only 11 career NFL tackles so far, and those college numbers happened on the other side of I-4…
Lightning center Brayden Point
Pro: Already an All-Star, the 23-year-old looks like a future superstar.
Con: It’ll be a while before he supplants Stamkos (or Kucherov, or Andrei Vasilevskiy) as the face of his franchise, much less the face of his entire market.
Rays prospect Wander Franco
Pro: 18-year-old is regarded as the top prospect in baseball, and ESPN recently dubbed him “MLB’s next can’t-miss kid.”
Con: A good down-the-road bet, but he hasn’t even reached Double-A yet.
Knicks forward Kevin Knox
Pro: Tampa Catholic product is the son of a former ’Nole, the best basketball player in area history and just finished a fine rookie season.
Con: Local interest in basketball isn’t high, and, like Alonso, he’s playing far from home.
Rays manager Kevin Cash
Pro: The face of the Rays’ think-outside-the-box culture that has them in the playoff mix. Bonus points for being a Tampa native and Gaither High alumnus.
Con: Charisma is a key component to this subjective title, and Cash doesn’t have the irresistible persona of his bespectacled predecessor.
Bucs receiver Mike Evans
Pro: Two-time Pro Bowler is arguably the Bucs’ most accomplished player with Gerald McCoy gone and is the franchise’s career leader in touchdown catches and receiving yards.
Con: Doesn’t have the flash or highlight reel of an Odell Beckham. Those things matter if a receiver is going to be the biggest name in town.
Rays pitcher Blake Snell
Pro: Has the stuff, age (26) and accolades (Cy Young Award) to be the area’s top athlete for years…
Con: …until he meets the fate of all other great Rays and gets traded away.
Also considered: Former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan (Robinson High alumnus and longtime area resident); sprinter Trayvon Bromell (Gibbs High); IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais (St. Petersburg resident), pro tennis player Danielle Collins (Northeast High); Preakness-winning jockey Tyler Gaffalione (Sunlake High).
Contact Matt Baker at email@example.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes