The war of ideas -- generally a hardball activity hereabouts -- was fought yesterday evening on a softball field.

The rich, powerful and right-wing Heritage Foundation took on the poor, unfashionable and left-wing Institute for Policy Studies in the shadow of the Washington Monument, putting aside the niceties of political discourse to take up the simple eloquence of a big bat. It was the fifth such contest in as many years for these ideological opponents, the Heritage Foundation having prevailed in all the previous encounters.

"But I look across the field and I see that T-shirt that says 'AL HAIG IS GOD,' " said IPS senior fellow Roger Wilkins, gazing with barely veiled disdain at the Heritage team. "And I know there's hope for us."

The proceedings got under way after IPS won the coin toss and chose to take the field. "That's the only thing we're going to lose tonight," vowed player-coach Mark Ziebarth, a Heritage Foundation fundraiser.

The IPS players, fanning out to their positions, were provocatively attired in bright yellow shirts, the legend "Redscare" blazoned in crimson across their backs -- which could be read either as "Red Scare" or, more sympathetically perhaps, "Reds Care." Coach-player Mike Fortun, a writer at the institute, sported a baseball cap decorated with the sentiment "Cuba, I wait for you" in Spanish. John Kelly, a magazine editor "associated" with IPS, wore the festive headband of the FMLN -- the Salvadoran leftist guerrillas.

"Shut up, you Leninists!" shouted Heritage foreign policy intern Chris Gray, reacting to a cheer from the IPS team. "Just look at those outfits -- just like the communist regimes." Gray added in a confiding tone, "Actually, they're not Leninists. Their money comes from Faberge', so they're really just soft Marxists. And all of us are underpaid idealists. I suppose I'll be working on the Hill before long."

The Heritage players, first at bat, wore T-shirts of dark dignified blue, the foundation logo with the Liberty Bell stripped across their chests. They brought with them a hefty think tank of Coors beer -- Colorado brewer Joseph Coors being a loyal and generous contributor. The IPS-ers, for their part, drank an off-brand called Red White & Blue: "The beer with the natural American taste," the label insisted.

But let's get to the game. The Heritage team started off with an overpowering barrage of hits and homers, garnering seven runs in the first inning. The IPS team managed to get two. So it went. The Heritage team racked up seven more runs in the next two innings.

"I think they're just about to go into a tailspin," ventured Larry Bostian, the IPS director of development. "We have not yet begun to fight!" A sudden crack of thunder lent emphasis to these words. This was underscored by a gust of wind.

Heritage catcher Mildred Webber tried to borrow a right-handed mitt from the IPS team, only to be told by her opposite number, "Most of us are left-handed."

Lightning struck. Heritage continued to win. In sports, as in life.

*"We're here to stay," said Webber, who now works at the White House in the Office of Public Liaison. "We used to be down and out, but we're not any more. We didn't like it, so we're not going back."

At 17-7 in the bottom of the fourth, the game was called on account of rain. What could Al Haig have been thinking of?