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Rays fire mascot Raymond

Rays mascot Raymond runs onto the field before Game 2 of the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Rays mascot Raymond runs onto the field before Game 2 of the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays' lead in Game 2 of the World Series was in jeopardy when someone yelled: It's Super Raymond!

Hip hop blared from the stadium's speakers as the fuzzy blue mascot, a black cape tied to his back, jiggled his butt until the once inconsolable crowd broke out in laughter.

Kelly Frank didn't know it then, but it would be her last performance as Raymond at Tropicana Field.

After five seasons of perfecting Raymond's butt-shimmy, the 27-year-old Frank was fired Monday. She said the Rays offered no explanation.

The team didn't offer the public an explanation either. "Be assured Raymond will live on," spokesman Rick Vaughn said.

Many fans didn't even know who was inside the furry Raymond suit. But for some, Raymond's wiggle will never be the same without Frank.

"It's like losing a player," said Cary Strukel, the fan who goes by the name Cowbell Kid. "She was always amped up, funny without saying anything. She really explored every aspect and every way to get people involved."

Frank was a rising star in the professional mascot business, supporters said, the rare blend of entertainer, marketing guru and spokesperson, always ready to cheer up sick kids in the hospital or drop it like it's hot during a drawn-out eighth inning.

"Kelly was great," said Tom Burgoyne, the Phanatic for the Philadelphia Phillies since 1994. "It always seemed to me that Raymond was one of the top ones, and a lot of it was what she brought to the costume."

Frank said she was praised as recently as three weeks ago, when her supervisors told her she outfanned the Phanatic during the World Series.

But on Monday, she was told she no longer had a job. As a Rays' employee, Frank also worked on other marketing projects, including the cowbell promotions at several Rays games. She maintained a Raymond blog and posted Raymond videos on youtube.com.

Frank was reluctant to discuss her dismissal in detail.

"I'm just as confused as everyone else. I really didn't get an explanation," she said. "My severance package is kind of up in the air right now, so …"

On Tuesday, the MySpace page Frank created for Raymond read, "Raymond is unemployed. Thanks for the memories, folks."

Frank is the second Raymond mascot to be fired since the team introduced the character in 1999.

Shawn Christopherson said he was let go in 2004 after a former Rays employee complained he earned too much money.

"I could see how she might have butted heads with other people in the organization. That always happens," he said. "But I thought she did her job."

Professional mascots are not easy to replace, said Christopher Bruce, a jester at large at the Mascot Boot Camp in Newark, Del., where Frank once trained. "It's not some kid in a suit," he said. "It requires a level of physicality that most people can't understand."

Mascots can earn anywhere from $40,000 to six figures and can earn a percentage of appearance fees, said Bruce.

The Rays would not comment on how much Frank earned.

Frank got into the mascot business as a teenager, becoming Geiko the mascot for the defunct Miami Fusion soccer team while in high school. That same year, she created her own costume business, AMAZING!! Mascots.

She found her way to baseball as K-O the kangaroo for minor league baseball's Brockton Rox. Frank quit the team after one season to become a Raymond substitute in 2002. She succeeded Christopherson in 2005.

Children loved her pantomiming and booty-shaking.

But there were setbacks.

A fan pushed her to the ground and broke her right arm in a 2005 game, keeping her off the field for eight weeks.

When the Rays changed their colors and name from the Devil Rays last year, rumors of a new mascot swirled. It didn't happen.

After games, Frank would remove her costume and mingle with fans at Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill, said owner Mark Ferguson. No one recognized her.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Cristina Silva can be reached at csilva@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8446.

Memorable moments

Kelly Frank as Raymond

• The Baltimore Orioles' mascot challenges Raymond to a dance off at a 2007 game. The Bird two-steps a bit before Raymond sets off the crowd with a few break-dancing moves.

• Raymond poufs out his hair '80s style, dons a black pleather jacket and rocks out his rendition of Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer during the playoffs.

• Angel Berroa, then playing with the Kansas City Royals, tackles Raymond during the 2007 All-Star game. Raymond responds with a pantomime of sticking his finger up Berroa's bum.

• During the playoffs, Raymond tosses a stingray at Boston Red Sox mascot Wally in a video spoof the duo shot titled "Why can't we be friends?"

• In another video titled "Raymond's house party," Raymond throws a party when Coach Joe Maddon leaves him the keys to the clubhouse as Fight for your Right by the Beastie Boys plays in the background.

Rays fire mascot Raymond 11/18/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 23, 2008 12:37pm]

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