Look, it's Hulk Hogan! Camp is comedy central

Mets reliever pitcher Tim Byrdak runs around the

Mets reliever pitcher Tim Byrdak runs around the field dressed as Hulk Hogan. (Feb. 28, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The principal owner was offered spare change during an on-field news conference. The general manager's Twitter account pokes fun at the team's financial situation and occasionally posts photos of his golden retriever, Buddy. On Tuesday, a lefthanded relief specialist dressed up like Hulk Hogan -- complete with blond wig and feather boa -- in transforming camp into a WrestleMania sideshow.

Just what in the name of Tom Seaver is going on here?

In a minor miracle, Billy Crystal avoided Mets jokes during Sunday night's Academy Awards, but he's probably the only comedian or talk-show host who hasn't taken shots at them lately. The players, however, insist the laugh track isn't affecting their preparation.

"What's funny about that is, I don't know how many guys in here really know the extent of it all," Jason Bay said, meaning funny as in strange, not ha-ha. "I for one don't. I don't follow it a lot. Everyone knows the perception. But we're athletes, this is our job, and you don't think that way. Regardless of the perception of us as a whole, the individualism kind of takes over, it helps you break through that."

Sandy Alderson's approach, which so far has been endorsed by the Mets' ownership group, is to laugh along with the critics -- and maybe even provide additional material along the way. But the GM is quick to point out that any joking attempts to disarm the distractions should not be mistaken for a lack of intensity overall.

"Things are occurring on two levels," Alderson said. "There's the professional level, and I think there's a dead seriousness about getting the work done, doing it in a consistent fashion with a lot of commitment on the part of both the players and the coaching staff, so I think that's fundamental.

"At the same time, you want to make that work as fun as you possibly can. It's right to point out that you've got to be careful because it's difficult to have a friendly, lighthearted but professional environment. Obviously, the focus can't be on that sort of superficial level -- it has to be fundamentally on the work that's being done, and I think that's already happened."

As for Tuesday's burst of Hulkamania, that was likely a one-shot deal. It began when Tim Byrdak dyed his Hulk-style "walrus" mustache blond early in camp, worked on his impression and finally donned the full garb after the workout. Byrdak joked that he did it after Tuesday morning's media workshop to show the younger players how fast he could get something up on Twitter.

But even a prankster like Byrdak realizes that these Mets have to leave the comedy act in the clubhouse -- and it will have to be cut back significantly as the regular season draws closer.

"You just got to know when to pick your spots," Byrdak said. "Obviously, that's the biggest thing. If the veteran guys get together and say that's not a great idea, then don't do it. The bottom line is that you have to get the job done on the field and we all know that."

Terry Collins believes that camp "should be loose" in the early days as players and coaches get up to speed. Alderson isn't worried about what's going on beyond the realm of his influence as GM. That includes the late-night jabs at his Mets and the morning's back pages.

"We're certainly aware of it," he said, "but we don't give in to it. We don't begin to believe it and the work we're doing here is counter to that. On the other hand, if Jon Stewart can have fun, then we can have fun, too."

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