PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- By the fourth inning, Luis Castillo retreated to the Mets' clubhouse, passed by a mirror and discovered the reasons for the behind-his-back giggles and grins in the dugout on Wednesday. He had been wearing a crown of pink bubble gum atop his cap -- the first bubble lasted for two innings, then came a second, then a third and then a plastic cup attached to the gum.

Seldom had Castillo, generously measured at 5-foot-11, stood as tall in a big league clubhouse as he did then.

When he saw the crown, the handiwork of team funnyman Ramon Castro, Castillo didn't see the humor. Castro tried to conceal his glee -- unsuccessfully.

"He doesn't know who did it. Don't tell him," the catcher said, unaware that television cameras had focused on the crown repeatedly. Castro then tried to deny his participation in the crown event, though he was the only one who knew 20 pieces of gum had been chewed and put in place.

It is Spring Training, isn't it? Two days earlier, some of the trainers took the bicycle that Minor League pitching coach Dan Warthen rides to camp each day and added streamers, a bell, a license plate and pink training wheels to it. And two weeks earlier, Pedro Feliciano, more of a stealth prankster, stole John Maine's glove and wired it to a street sign in camp.

Is the spring dragging? Perhaps.

Castillo's almost-stone-faced reaction to Castro's bubble-gum caper was a tad reminiscent of a more famed reaction to a clubhouse prank from 20 years ago. Jesse Orosco, in his first spring away from the Mets and his lone spring with the Dodgers, smeared eye black around the inside rim of Kirk Gibson's helmet in 1988. The black ran down Gibson's face in the Florida swelter, and Gibson snapped, saying he took even exhibition games seriously.

Tommy Lasorda probably overstated the case later when he attributed the Dodgers' get-serious approach to the eye-black incident. But Gibson was the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1988, elected at least partially for his attitude and influence. Some people thought Orel Hershiser's signature season had more to do with the Dodgers winning the NL West crown.


Castillo was in the dugout because he didn't play as he thought he might. He has yet to make his Spring Training debut. He had thought Wednesday, but certainly Thursday. He said now that he will wait until Saturday after the Mets play road games on Thursday and Friday.