They called it "the big game," the opening grudge match pitting Jimmy Carter's veteran batters against Ted Kennedy's scrappy sluggers. The soft April afternoon echoed with the lusty yells of presidential fantom looking for blood.

On the sidelines, settling down with beer and catcalls to watch the old apple hurtle through the air, was a boisterous throng of softball lovers -- middle level campaign staffers and a sprinkling from the candidates' families. They were ready for a thrill-packed double-header Sunday.

Then, out of nowhere, comes this guy. You know, the kind with the blue shirt and silver badge who jolts you back into reality by saying it's against the law to drink in public (especially on a school playground like the one at Bundy on 4th and O streets NW).

"It might not look too good to read 'Carter Aides Arrested for Drinking in Public'," Officer J.N. Platt continues, looking straight at Annette Carter, her beer bottle poised for a swallow.

"Where are you supposed to drink then, in the car?" the president's daughter-in-law responded politely to the friendly warning.

Platt, who said later he had no idea who anybody was, including Annette Carter, just shook his head and walked away.

For the rest of the afternoon there was no joy at Bundy School for parched Carter fans, who nevertheless overcame the loss of beverages to root their team on to victory. Across the field, out of Officer Platt's earshot, Kennedy fans innocently cried in their beer.

The Carter-Mondale nine trounced the Kennedy team 9-1 in the first game. And early on, as it became clear who had the better organization, one Carter-Mondale campaign staffer worried whether there was any way the Kennedy team could declare "a moral victory after the game?"

After the game Kennedy coach Mike Hill found the way by simply declaring the loss "a great moral victory."

Carter-Mondale also snatched the second game, but by press time nobody could decide by what score.

"It doesn't translate into any convention delegates," said Hill. "We consider it just a microcosm of the whole primary season. We played them on their home field, we had a working-class team, and we lost the first two."

It began as your basic softball game, each side trying to get all the runs. Brought in as "blind mice" were Kevin Kelly and John O'Brien of the Federal Election Commission whom both sides grudgingly had to admit called the plays straight.

The next thing everybody knew, Kennedy fans were streaming off a chartered bus and through the turn-stiles.

"It just typifies the different styles," said an amused Carterite. "The Carter people don't have to impress anybody with the superficial aspects of leadership. No memo went out Friday telling everybody to show up for the games."

Among the Kennedy fans were two genuine Kennedys, Douglas, 13, and his sister, Rory, 11, Ethel Kennedy's children. They had talked their governess into letting them miss morning mass by promising to attend an early evening one. By the time the second game was about to get underway and they had made the Kennedy team's batting lineup, they were trying to renege on their promise. ("I hate Robin," said Douglas of Robin Fudge, the governess.)

Innocent passersby quickly figured out which team was which. Kennedy's wore T-shirts with "Tedquarters" printed across the back. Carter's wore T-shirts with "United States" printed across the front.

There were several thrilling moments. One was when Denny Mahoney of Kennedy's team, playing catcher, looked down in her glove and saw, to her surprise, the ball snuggling there after a throw from third base.

"Next time I have to learn how to tag the runner, too" said Mahoney, who is on Kennedy's campaign finance staff.

Another potential thrill came when a vehicle raced past, siren screaming.

"For one minute there," said West Coghlan, who works on issues for Kennedy, "I thought Carter had finally come out of the Rose Garden."