I hadn't paid much attention to baseball lately -- what with the scintillating presidential campaign, the scintillating fall television season and Britney Spears's scintillating, latest marriage -- so imagine my surprise when I woke up the other afternoon to the latest developments:

* The Atlanta Braves win their 13th consecutive division title.

* The New York Yankees earn their seventh straight division title (and 10th straight trip to the postseason).

* And baseball is back in Washington, D.C.!

I'd like to defend the Braves against the sports-radio mobs that belittle them for only winning one World Series during their remarkable run, but I can't.

For, frankly, I've never been in a Chipper Jones mood. Plus, listening to Skip Caray broadcast a Braves game is like listening to an air traffic controller announce flight patterns. And I would rather watch Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie milk a cow than watch Braves fans do the Tomahawk Chop.

Alas, the Braves long have considered themselves "America's Team." America's Team? Uh, didn't the South lose the war? Does the rest of America like eating ham hocks and fried okra? If the Braves are America's Team, then I'm on the next slow boat, with slots, to China.

But even if you are safely north of the Mason-Dixon Line, who can root for the Yankees? They don't have a payroll, they have a GNP. The Yankees are an embarrassment of nouveau riches. Last season, three Yankees hit at least 30 homers -- Jason Giambi, Alfonso Soriano and Jorge Posada. This season three other Yankees hit at least 30 homers -- Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui.

The Yankees have a striking advantage: George Steinbrenner's got the deepest pockets and a lot of other baseball owners aren't even wearing pants!

(NFL update: Many readers have e-mailed to remind me that my Team of Destiny, the Arizona Cardinals, stink. I am undaunted. After all, I wrote these exact words last month: "The Cardinals might start 0-3, but they'll eventually turn Sun Devil Stadium into the House of Sunburn and [finish] 9-6-1." Did they not start 0-3, eternal doubters? I even know which game they will tie -- against the Jets, Nov. 28. Gosh, I'm good.)

(College update: Against a swarming and savvy Tulsa defense, Heisman front-runner Timmy Chang completed 22 of 43 passes for 378 yards Saturday in Hawaii's 44-16 victory. He hasn't thrown an interception this season in 159 pass attempts. Chang's so accurate, he makes Doppler Radar look like Al Roker.)

Which brings us to the return, again, of Major League Baseball to the nation's capital.

Sadly, my home town -- that's right, I grew up in the shadows of the Federal Trade Commission (we didn't play "kick the can," we played "overlook the anti-trust violation") -- is once and forever out of whack priority-wise.

Our schools are a mess, but that's okay, Joe Gibbs is back with the Redskins!

The water's full of lead, but so what, Major League Baseball's back in town!

We have no voting representation in Congress, but, hey, Marion Barry's back on the D.C. Council!

Sure, I'm happy D.C. is back on the diamond and I don't want to rain on its 2005 Opening Day, but the city's been without baseball for only 30-odd years and without voting rights for 200-odd years, and this is where all the time, effort and tax dollars go -- to securing a franchise and building a stadium? I guess I missed that day in civics class.

Then again, I once was a proud member of the Young Senators club. And what a fine time to revive that age-old axiom: "Washington -- first in war, first in peace and last in the National League." I just hope we have better middle relief this time around.

Ask The Slouch

Q. My wife wants to bet me over who is correct on their memory of a certain fact that can be verified. If I am correct, she must watch an entire televised baseball game with me, but if she is correct, I have to attend an opera with her. I feel that the risk/reward ratio is far too great to consider taking the bet. Do you agree? (Ron DePetris; Houston)

A. Televised baseball vs. live opera? The risk is far too great for either one of you.

Q. I'm contemplating a career change into the world of sports-television criticism, but I have a useful degree from a fairly prestigious university. Is there hope for me? (Jeff Birdsell; San Diego)

A. Go to 7-Eleven, buy a bag of pork rinds and see how they taste while watching "I, Max." Then get back to me.

Q. In a recent poll, 31 percent of Sports Illustrated readers said they've had sex while watching a sporting event. Is Couch Slouch in that group? (Michael Stans; Rockville)

A. Well, it depends on how you define sex and if you consider "Wheel of Fortune" a sport.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. E-mail asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!