With major league baseball returning at last to the nation’s capital, I’d like to offer some advice to the team’s potential new fans. Incidentally, many of these suggestions might also be helpful to fans of the Democratic Party.

The first and most important rule:

Don’t Be A Fair-Weather Fan: You’re not a true fan if you love your team only when it’s winning but complain bitterly and distance yourself from it when it’s losing. The Boston Red Sox haven’t won a World Series in 85 years, and its fans are still among the staunchest and most enthusiastic in baseball.

So if your team is stuck in a losing streak, or John Kerry is down in the polls, don’t get all apocalyptic about their ultimate chances for success. A lot of players in tight World Series games have reported that what sustained their spirits in those crucial final innings was the energy of the fans.

Losing hope for John Kerry when he’s down in the polls would be like walking out of the stands in the ninth inning of a tied World Series game seven. I could never listen to a person who did that and then complained afterward about the outcome of the game.

In politics, as in baseball, anything can happen – but it takes a great deal of dedication. So similarly, I won’t listen to anyone complain about George Bush unless he or she has donated at least $50 to the Democratic campaign and volunteered at least one day in Kerry headquarters (right here in D.C.!).

Don’t Give Your Team More Grief than It Already Gets: When Washington plays an away game, you’d expect the players to get booed. When they play at home, however, the fans should provide an environment filled with maximum support, not flying beer bottles.

In this campaign, however, sometimes I have trouble telling who’s on which side. You’d think with all the nonsense Kerry has to put up with from the Bush campaign, his own supporters would refrain from sighing commentaries about his charisma and hand-wringing columns about his chances in November.

Listen, the Republicans have a candidate with a disastrous record on almost every conceivable front, and you don’t see them second-guessing Bush all the time – even though his campaign certainly has dropped a few balls of its own. This, however, leads to the next point:

Let the Coach Manage the Team: Now what true fan hasn’t at some point called a genius squeeze play from the comfort of his or her living room and had the idiot coach blow it by letting the batter swing away?

Naturally, we all think then that we’re Joe Torre stand-ins, but I have bad news for you: we’re not. Could we have coached the team better at that moment? Yes. Could we coach the team better all year round? No.

I’m not kidding. There’s no way that you personally would be a better campaign manager than the many experienced, intelligent, swing-state-studying strategists that Kerry has working for him right now. Unless “you” are James Carville, in which case I would like to invite you to stop reading this column now and go be John Kerry’s campaign manager.

But otherwise, if you don’t understand it, don’t knock it. Even if you do understand what Kerry’s doing, and you think it’s wrong, just keep quiet about it – at least outside the house. Trust me, the Bush people will pick up on it without your help.

Get to Know Your Players: If you’re from Tampa Bay, you’re stuck with the Devil Rays. Although this in itself might be a good reason to move, presumably you will root for them anyway because, well, you live in Tampa Bay.

Don’t do this, Democrats. Perhaps you’re voting for John Kerry not so much because of who he is but because of what party he hails from.

Look a little closer, and get passionate about your team. Read Tour of Duty by Douglas Brinkley.

Look at the innovative ideas Kerry enacted as district attorney, such as programs counseling rape victims and special units to prosecute white-collar and organized crime.

Research what crusading work he did in the Senate to take down BCCI, a bank whose clients included some of the most dangerous tyrants and criminals of the 20th century, including Osama bin Laden.

Find out how he led a 2002 Senate filibuster that stymied oil drilling in the arctic.

There’s a lot more to choose from – but choose something.

Or just watch him in the next debate: thinking carefully about the question, preparing his response and relying on years of study and experience to address the issue – just what you would want a president always to do.

There’s no question about it, we’ve got the best team this year by far. Now we just need to be the best fans.

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