THE FLY BALL sailed lazily out toward center field, where Lavaughn Williams casually pounded his mitt. "I got it!" he declared. Seconds later, he was true to his word, and we had ourselves a champion.

They were the folks from the Environmental Policy Institute, and they left no doubt that they were the best team in our inaugural Think Tank Softball Championship of Washington. EPI coasted to the title last Saturday by winning four consecutive games, three of them shutouts.

EPI's victory in the championship game came at the expense of The Heritage Foundation. EPI led by only 2-0 until the sixth inning. But then EPI left fielder Phil Johnson socked a three-run home run, and the environmentalists waltzed home from there by a final score of 11-0.

As Heritage manager and third baseman Mark Ziebarth put it, "They just stuck it to us."

For their victory, the EPIers won the coveted Think Tank Trophy -- a replica of Rodin's famous statue, "The Thinker." EPI manager Pat Transue said the 13-inch-high statue would soon take up permanent residence in the EPI trophy case. Then, in true, always-broke think tank fashion, he added:

"As soon as we find the money to build one."

Speaking of money, that was the whole idea behind the tournament. Each of the 16 teams kicked in a $100 entry fee, all of which went to our annual Send a Kid to Camp campaign. The total take from entry fees and assorted individual donations was more than $1,700 -- and that's far greater than any hits, runs or errors.

The spirit was so contagious that one of the umpires, Jeff Gardner, even turned his fee over to the camp kitty. It may have been the first umpire's decision in history that no one could criticize.

How did EPI carry the day? Equal parts timely hitting, cold beer and thoughtful analysis. Infielder Chris Weems was the most thoughtful of all. Midway through the title game, he roared this battle cry:

"It's tough out there, ladies and gentlemen, but you're animals and you're doing a hell of a job!"

EPI celebrated with a team picture, more beer and a lusty chant of "E!P!I! . . . . E!P!I!" which was loud enough to scare squirrels for miles around. Meanwhile, the 15 squads left in EPI's wake were left to mumble, "Who the heck are those guys?"

In softball terms, they aren't all that serious. The EPI team doesn't play in a league, doesn't practice, doesn't wear snappy uniforms and doesn't have an unforgettable or slightly risque nickname.

All they do is win. EPI has lost only twice in the last two years (in about 20 outings), both times to the Public Interest Research Group. "Got our number somehow," said manager Transue.

Politically, EPI is anti-most things nuclear and extremely anti-anything that's destructive to air, water, softball or other essentials of life. Located at 218 D St. SE, the 15-year-old thinkerie lobbies Congress on "just about every environmental issue you can think of," said Pat.

Where does EPI stand on the political spectrum? "Left," said Pat.

"This far left?" asked an innocent columnist, his left hand to the left side of his chest.

"Farther," said Pat.

"This far?"

"Farther."

"This far?"

"Farther." As his arm was about to fall out of its socket, the columnist figured he had the idea.

Besides Heritage and EPI, the Congressional Budget Office and the Brookings Institution reached the semifinals. Four additional teams (the Center for Defense Information, Mutual Broadcasting, the State Department and the Capital Centre) reached the quarterfinals. But the best line of the day belonged to a team that lost in the first round, the Wilson Quarterly.

Having just been crunched by EPI, 6-0, I asked the Wilsons if they planned to practice for next year.

"Well, we'll think about it," one Wilsonite said. What else would a think tank do?

Gobs of thanks to all 16 teams that entered, and special thanks to St. John's College High School, which graciously allowed us to use its playing fields. Until next year, let's lift a toast to these EPIers who joined Lavaughn Williams, Phil Johnson, Chris Weems and Pat Transue in victory:

Larry Weems, Tom McAdoo, Paul Kershaw, Janet Kershaw, Velma Smith, Stacy Williams, Rick Young, Andy Palmer, Jennifer McAdoo and Larry Nathans.

You're animals, ladies and gentlemen, and you did a hell of a job.

SEND A KID TO CAMP SCOREBOARD:

The take from the softball tournament and over-the-weekend donations bumped our total up to: $85,852.06.

Our goal as of July 31: $200,000.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.