Humor by Greg Schwem

I have two daughters, both of whom play organized softball. Every year about this time, I volunteer to manage one of their teams. I sign my name in the box, pay the registration fees and hear not a peep from the PONY Baseball/Softball higher-ups until the following spring when my roster arrives. I also receive a hefty PONY rulebook, containing a litany of regulations and a code of conduct, which I promise to abide by during the season.

While I don't necessarily agree with all the rules, and find some of the conduct specifications to be ludicrous (What? I can't gamble on my Blueberry Muffins team?), the PONY laws succeed at speeding up games, encouraging teamwork and avoiding conflict.

That's why, after watching the 2,407th Republican presidential candidate debate, this one LIVE FROM LAS VEGAS, I feel it's time to incorporate youth softball rules into the contests. Something needs to be done before Mitt Romney places his hand on Rick Perry's shoulder and balls it into a fist. Perry should also be penalized for calling any candidate "brother," a remark that had Vegas odds makers scurrying to establish a line on whether he would refer to Michele Bachmann as "sister."

Does anybody really think these contests will determine the outcome of the 2012 presidential election? Most studies show the American public uses other means to make their choices. They weigh each candidate's position on the most important issues facing this country, carefully read profiles from several well respected national publications, and then choose whomever has the best hair and nicest smile. Google "Jimmy Carter" for proof.

Still, there are at least 12 more debates tentatively scheduled. The next one takes place Nov. 9 in Rochester, Mich. That is more than enough time for PONY officials to restore sanity to the debate process by scouring their rulebook and rewriting the format. Here are a few suggestions:

A continuous batting order will be used -- Specifically, each candidate gets 60 seconds to state his or her position on a topic, starting at the far left podium and moving down the line. This will eliminate candidates interrupting each other, as well. It also means Anderson Cooper can stay home.

No player will be omitted from the starting lineup in consecutive games -- Breathe easier Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman.

Players must rotate positions -- Midway through the debate, all candidates will move to different podiums. This ensures that Romney and Perry will have only a limited time to touch each other. Once separated, contact will be limited to both candidates hurling ballpoint pens at one another.

The dropped third strike rule does not apply -- Simply put, no candidate gets the chance to "clarify" a position, even after a horrendous foot-in-mouth gaffe. This rule should help Bachmann and Ron Paul choose their words more carefully.

The game is over after one hour and 45 minutes -- Anybody have a problem with that?

A player who has been removed from the game may re-enter the game -- Just in case Tim Pawlenty happens to be in Michigan on Nov. 9.

Pitchers are required to wear a defensive facemask -- Whichever candidate is speaking is deemed "the pitcher" and will wear the mask. The exception is Herman Cain. After the verbal bashing he took in the Vegas debate, he will wear one from the moment he walks on stage.

No warm up swings are permitted during the game -- This rule keeps candidates from flip-flopping on topics during the debate.

Finally, two rules that are not specifically written in the official PONY handbook but which are used by most managers, myself included.

Each candidate must have a "team mom" -- Sarah Palin is available.

At the conclusion of every game, all players go out for ice cream -- Candidates will use this time to argue over who will pay and where the money will come from.

One more thing: Everyone gets a trophy.

Humorist Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad

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