This is certainly putting the cart before the horse -- and the horse may never again canter in these parts. But Frank A. Dalecki Jr. believes that big-league baseball is on its way back to Washington. So he suggests that We Washingtonians start thinking about what to call our new team.

"I realize that there is a sentimental attachment to 'The Senators,' " Frank writes. "But in view of public opinion polls showing that national representatives are held in only slightly higher regard than journalists, 'Senators' may do more harm than sentiment can cure . . . .

"Besides, what sort of a mascot could a team called 'The Senators' field? Someone in a three-piece suit who debates deficits with the groundskeepers during the seventh-inning stretch?

"I mean, can't you just see it? 'Attache Case Night' where all kids under 12 receive a genuine, simulated leather lunch box? Baseball cards that list a player's personal income as well as his stats? The roll call instead of the wave?

" . . . .This is crucial, Bob. As a champion of The Cause, the future of Washington baseball may rest in your hands and in your column."

That's heavy pressure you're putting on me, Frank. Here I was hoping that the new Washington Whatevers will draft me to be their third baseman, and you want to relegate me to the idea factory. I'd rather unleash some heavy lumber or corral a few hot smashes with my deft glove.

But I'll take a swing at it, as it were. Here, in order, are my three choices for the new team's name.

The Washington Democrats: This has several advantages.

First, it won't be ambiguous, since there are no actual Democrats left in Washington.

Second, it will allow fans to hate Our Boys in familiar fashion whenever Washington plays on the road. I can just hear the crowds in Kansas City or Seattle shouting, "Come on, guys! Beat the bejeesus out of those Democrats! I can't stand them!" The voters out there have been already been uttering those very words for years.

Third, "Democrats" will show up beautifully in newspaper headlines. DEMS DROP PAIR TO YANKS fits over two columns just gorgeously. And if I know Washington baseball (not to mention New York baseball), that headline will be accurate for several centuries.

Fourth, the bad-joke potential is limitless. We ought to be able to do plenty with dese, Dems and dose. And imagine the gags if the free-spending Democrats go out and buy an overpriced left fielder who turns out to be a dud.

Second choice: The Washington Monuments.

It's catchy. It's memorable. It's appropriately stately. And it leaves no doubt about what the team symbol will be.

Like Democrats, Monuments has strong bad-joke potential. When the team loses 15 in a row, the scribes will be able to write that "Washington has become Monuments to futility," or some such. In addition, Monuments evokes everything the rest of the country is used to associating with Washington: Its size, its inflexibility and its cost.

Third choice: The Potomac Fever.

This is a very "now" candidate, right up there with soccer teams named the Sting and the Fire. Note that Fever is singular. That's very in. When you're a baseball team that will be out most of the time, you take ins wherever you can find them.

Obviously, this choice is indigenous to the area where the team will play. Obviously, it's steeped in tradition, since Potomac Fever has gripped the local citizenry since the days of that great baseball fan, Theodore Roosevelt. Obviously, the name connotes the pitch at which we hope our team will play -- even though we know it probably won't.

But the main virtue of this choice is its regional reach.

Any ad mogul will tell you that the name of an enterprise has to "invite people in." To include the word "Washington" in the name of the baseball team may "disinvite" suburbanites. But plaster an entire river on the chests of an entire baseball team, and everyone along its banks, all the way up to West Virginia, will feel welcome.

After such a deranged dissertation, I wouldn't blame Frank Dalecki if he sentenced me to eat third base, not stand beside it.

But I hope this helps to focus the thinking of Washington baseball fans -- and helps to whet a few appetites. The truth is that local baseball fans would welcome any team name under the sun, just so long as a real ball club played real games here once again.

Halley's Comet may be gone, but luckily, some Halley's jokes remain. For example, this one, from Ben O'Malley of Bethesda.

Ben says a neighbor asked him if he knew that Halley's Comet appears only once every 76 years.

Ben replied, "I know. I have a teen-aged son who does the same thing."