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Rays apologize after mascot poses with 'inappropriate' sign

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Published:   |   Updated: April 5, 2013 at 07:32 AM
ST. PETERSBURG -

The Tampa Bay Rays said they regretted their mascot posed with an “inappropriate” fan's sign that whimsically alluded to the death of Steve Irwin, TV's “Crocodile Hunter”

Photographs have gone viral of Raymond posing with the sign, which lists two items under a “Rays Things to Do List.” No. 2 on the list was “World Series.”

The first item, crossed out, was “Steve Irwin,” the famed Australian television zoologist who was fatally barbed by a stingray in 2006.

The sign was made by Lloyd Johnson, 29, an Army veteran from Pinellas Park who served in Iraq and is now attending St. Petersburg College. He brought it to Wednesday night's game and during the seventh inning handed it Raymond, who held it up for photographs.

In an email, he said he's a “big Rays fan” and Irwin fan, but “I can also take a joke.”

Johnson said Raymond “obviously thought it was funny because, at first, he stood up on the chairs and held it up for literally 3 seconds, either realizing what he was doing or when he saw the reaction from some of the fans, and got down and tried to hand it back.

Johnson said he took photographs when the mascot returned the sign.

“Raymond did read the sign and even used his finger to point to the Steve Irwin line before he stood up for a second. It was definitely a slip-up on his part because from most of the comments I've read, people think the Rays did this when in fact it was just a smart (aleck) that handed it to him.”

The team was not amused.

“Rays mascot Raymond was handed an inappropriate sign brought to the game by a fan,” team spokesman Rick Vaughn said in a statement. “Fans are welcome to bring signs into Tropicana Field provided they are not offensive.

“The Tampa Bay Rays regret that this particular sign was displayed in the ballpark, and we apologize for the lapse in judgment.”

Johnson is a sports marketing major who actually hopes to work for the Rays one day.

He said he came up with the idea for the sign last week, channeling his marketing mindset developed when he worked for a T-shirt kiosk at Tyrone Square Mall. He found, through trial and error, “that the more cutting edge/offensive the shirt, the more it would sell.”

“I had to explain the sign to some people I encountered, but most of the reaction … at the game was positive and funny,” he said.

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