FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A funny thing happened on the way to the Fort.

Three Mets arrived by limo -- long, white, exclusive, impressive and, Billy Wagner feared, misunderstood.

An explanation follows:

Wagner, Matt Wise and Jorge Sosa needed to pitch, but not in the Mets' exhibition game here. Those innings belonged to Orlando Hernandez and Mike Pelfrey. The Mets also needed a means of transporting five Minor League players back to Port St. Lucie, Fla., after their game with the Orioles. Most players still assigned to the big league camp -- 36 of the 38 -- made the trip to Memphis, Tenn., for the Civil Rights Game.

So the club made arrangements for Wagner, Wise and Sosa to pitch in a Class A Minor League game against the Marlins in Jupiter, Fla. A limo would take the three there, and then on to Fort Lauderdale Stadium so they could rejoin their teammates for the trip to Memphis. Then the limo would take the Minor League players back.

Seemed like a good idea.

But Wagner wasn't so sure. Early yesterday, he wondered.

"You know how that's gonna look?" Wagner asked. "A bunch of kids are gonna see us come up in this big, white stretch and pop out like we have to have this kind of treatment. All they're gonna think is, 'These guys are big leaguing us like that.' That's what I'd think if I were in their shoes [or their cars]."

Wise had apprehensions, too. "I may give the driver a hundred to drop me off at a mall so no one will see me," he said.

It all worked out. The three threw one inning each -- 40 pitches total -- and hopped back into the limo without a word from the Marlins' kids.

"It was exquisite," Wise said when he reached Fort Lauderdale.

And Wagner wondered: "What happens if one of those kids makes it to the big leagues. He might expect a limo. Hey, by then, who knows?"

Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez, the Mets' starters in the first two games of the season, are the only players who didn't make the trip to Memphis. They'll rejoin the team Sunday in Miami for a workout at Dolphin Stadium.