Clubhouse Confidential: Castro's popularity

The contrast between the Mets' catching tandem of Mike Piazza and Ramon Castro was never more evident than this week at Shea Stadium, when Castro – the unofficial team mascot – was celebrated with his own fan club.

Pedro Martinez sprinted through the clubhouse like an 11-year-old boy on Christmas morning, gleefully announcing that a shipment of T-shirts had arrived and was being distributed in a storage room.

One by one, the Mets players entered the room and plucked the giveaways – white t-shirts with a picture of a gray bulldog in the center, surrounded by the words "Ramon Castro Fan Club" and "Appreciate Dat!"

"That's outstanding," Mike Jacobs said.

For the record, the bulldog did somewhat resemble Castro, whose massive cranium has been second only to Mr. Met's and is an easy target for teammates.

Once, someone pasted a huge souvenir hat-shaped pennant over Castro's locker; on another occasion, Martinez put a garbage can over his head to suggest a new style batting helmet.

Filling in for Piazza (who finally cracked what seemed like his first smile in weeks Wednesday when visited by good buddy and VH1 vee-jay Eddie Trunk), Castro has given the Mets plenty to appreciate.

Once considered by the Mets to be Triple-A filler, Castro has spent the entire season with the Mets and is fulfilling the promise that once prompted the Houston Astros to make him a first-round draft pick in 1994, proving that he can handle the everyday catching duties with aplomb.

His defensive skills are naturally superior to Piazza's, but his bat has proved potent as well – Castro homered twice on the Mets' abbreviated three-game homestand with Philadelphia, including a game-winning three-run blast Tuesday off Ugueth Urbina.

Since Piazza went down to injury on Aug. 16, Castro is hitting a respectable .268 (11-for-41) with three home runs and 14 runs batted in over 12 games as the Mets' second line of defense behind the dish.

"He's doing a good job," said GM Omar Minaya. "He's driven in some key runs and he's good defensively. He's really stepped up for us."

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Reliever Heath Bell is back with the Mets after a stint at Triple-A Norfolk, in which he helped the club's International League affiliate reach the playoffs.

And though some might argue Bell never pitched badly enough to be sent back to the minors in the first place, the trip was a worthwhile experience, if only because Bell finally got to take a champagne bath in the clubhouse.

"I was shaking it, dumping it on people's heads," Bell said.

To be fair, Bell was also a member of the 1999 Capital City team that went to the playoffs, but because two players were under 21, the Bombers substituted champagne for sparkling apple cider. Not the same.

"Didn't sting [your eyes] as much," Bell said.

The Tides get their postseason bid started on Wednesday, with Eric Junge listed as the Game 1 starter against the Toledo Mud Hens. Bell noted that he'd be there in spirit as the Tides pursued the Governor's Cup, which of course begged the question: can you drink from the Governor's Cup, as hockey players drink from Lord Stanley?

"I don't know," Bell said. "But if I was there, I'd find out."

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The skinny on Andy Wilson, who jumped right over Double-A Binghamton and joined Triple-A Norfolk on Friday: the man with a bat, but no position.

The 24-year-old slugger hit .284 with 28 home runs and 89 RBI in 464 at-bats for St. Lucie, threatening to surpass the Florida State League home run record of 33. He won't do it this year, but if he cranks just one as a secret weapon for Tides manager Ken Oberkfell's squad, it'll be all worthwhile.

The problem might be finding an everyday position for Wilson. He's not the prototypical utility guy, but he's seen time at catcher, first base, third base, left field and designated hitter at St. Lucie this season.

Next season will probably bring a sink-or-swim assignment at Binghamton for Wilson if he remains healthy.

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It was worth a raised eyebrow Wednesday when Willie Randolph gushed praise for Phillies starter Brett Myers, saying the right-hander owned an "exceptional curveball."

Complimentary words are few and far between from Randolph, who refused to blow up Carlos Beltran's decision to stay in the lineup despite a facial fracture – "I expect my players to play like men," Randolph said – and gave little credit to Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Zach Duke, saying that he didn't see anything special.

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Inside Pitch managing editor Bryan Hoch appears every Friday with Clubhouse Confidential, an inside look at the New York Mets organization. Contact Bryan at metsinsidepitch@aol.com.


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