This is Jon Miller's imaginary listener, the person he pretends he's talking to at the start of each Baltimore Orioles game: He's a little old man or little old lady or maybe a kid. He's too poor or too far away to get to an Orioles game in person, but he's still a rabid baseball fan.

He does not want to be entertained so much as informed. He does not appreciate confusion, too much cheering or happy talk. He does appreciate the game, its strategy, its characters.

This listener sits on a porch or balcony, and on those miserably muggy Chesapeake afternoons, the Baltimore Orioles are an escape and a joy.

If this is the age of MTV, Talking Heads and Simple Minds, Jon Miller, the voice of the Baltimore Orioles, is a throwback to a time when Americans were connected to men named Mel and Red and Russ. And today, Opening Day, the cycle of summer begins again with Miller's deep voice marking the innings, measuring the days.

He is 34 now and perhaps part of the last great AM radio generation. He grew up in the Oakland suburb of Hayward listening to Russ Hodges do the San Francisco Giants games and Vin Scully do the hated Dodgers. He grew up with his father, a schoolteacher, puttering around the house, doing this or that, but always with Hodges' voice in the background.

He grew up wanting to mean as much to some team's fans as Ernie Harwell means in Detroit and Vin Scully in Los Angeles and Phil Rizzuto in New York.

That, he figured when he was about 8, wouldn't be a bad way to make a living.

"That's the essence of the game," he said, "and one of the real special pleasures of baseball."

At just past 11 on a bright Florida morning, Miller arrived at the Sonesta Beach Hotel, his spring training post. Decked out in running shorts, a faded T-shirt and a day-old beard, he settled into a chair near the beach and smeared suntan oil onto his shoulders and face. A winter of vacationing in Hawaii and two weeks in southern Florida have left his cherubic features a deep brown, his remaining hair streaked with gray, his disposition mellow.

Symbolically, if not physically, he is at home here. At his age, he qualifies as new money and, as much as anyone around him this day, a success.

He joined the Orioles in 1983, coming from Boston, and this season he will earn just more than $100,000 to broadcast the Orioles games. In 1987 he begins a four-year, $650,000 contract he signed with the team this winter.

And he has also achieved a measure of success that's hard to gauge. In a business dripping with monstrous egos and envy, he has managed to become something of a cult figure, admired and respected by not only colleagues and Orioles fans, but players, coaches and front-office staff as well.

"As a baseball fan, I listen to Miller, and I want to hear more," said Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams. "It makes you want to know more about the team, gets you interested in the game."

What's more, Miller's bubbling personality and impersonations of public-address announcers and other play-by-play announcers have made him a popular speaker at winter banquets. He recently had an Orioles gathering in tears of laughter as he finished a long evening by imitating Orioles TV broadcasters Chuck Thompson and Brooks Robinson covering a White House press conference.

(The important news was not that the president might declare nuclear war, but that if he did, Mrs. Bertha Nicely of Lutherville would win $1 million in Equitable's Grand Slam Nuclear War contest.)

Since moving to Baltimore he has had offers to work for WGN in Chicago, KMOX in St. Louis and the New York Yankees. Any one of these jobs might have paid more than he'll ever make with the Orioles, but he said after four cities in seven years, he and his two young daughters were ready to call someplace home.

He chose Baltimore "because it has everything. Baseball is a big deal there, and I like the feel of the city, sitting in the sun at the Inner Harbor, being near Washington."

If he is good at what he does, it may be because he has paid a stiff price. "I got divorced because of the career," he said, "and now, it's hard to go out with someone when you're never going to get a chance to see them.

"When am I going to see someone? Between midnight and 3 a.m. after a home game? A woman would have to understand that when I do have a night off, I'm going to spend it with my kids. I need it, and they need it."

There was a sadness in his voice. He has been doing what he wanted since he was 10, but he has found out about the sacrifices, too.

"When I first started, I was obsessed with being good," he said. "That goes back to when I was fired by Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley in 1974. I never felt very secure after that, so when I was doing the Texas Rangers 1978-1980 , I'd spend hours doing notes and statistics and all that.

"I'd come home at night after a game and many times listen to a replay of the whole broadcast. If I thought something was wrong with it, I might lie awake all night thinking about it.

"Then after my marriage broke up, I didn't give a damn. I quit doing the homework and all that, and you know what? It probably made the broadcasts better."

Yet people who know him still consider him compulsive. He reads up to a half-dozen newspaper sports sections a day, devours Sports Illustrated, Baseball America, Street and Smith's baseball yearbooks, game notes, gossip, whatever.

He buys tapes of old baseball announcers doing games in the '40s, and he listens. He also loves to argue trades, strategy, training, whatever. When he started with the A's, Manager Alvin Dark would patiently answer his every question "no matter how stupid."

Since then, "I've been lucky," he said. "Earl Weaver is very secure about explaining why he does certain things. It's not that I want to second-guess, I want to learn. If I don't have credibility, I'm not doing anyone any good."

Once upon a time, a baseball fan's craving for news was fed by only two sources -- newspapers and radio announcers -- and Miller grew up listening to those two legends of his business, Hodges doing the Giants and Scully the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Those were the days before videotape at 11 and before cable television had 500 games a summer, the days when people sat in their parlors and listened to the Giants or Cardinals or Yankees.

As a kid, it wasn't Willie Mays he idolized, but Hodges, and later Red Barber and Scully.

"When I was growing up, I loved the Giants," he said, "and Russ Hodges was the Giants to me."

His earliest recollection of attending a baseball game was sitting in Candlestick Park with a pair of binoculars, watching not the Giants, but Hodges in the broadcast booth.

"These were the Giants teams that had Willie McCovey, Willie Mays and Juan Marichal, great teams," Miller said. "Whenever someone hit a home run, Hodges would say, 'Bye, bye, baby.' But when I'd go to a game and see a home run, it didn't seem like a home run because no one would say, 'Bye, bye, baby.' "

With the Giants playing mostly day games, Miller, then about 10 years old, could hear or see them in the afternoon, then listen to Scully and the Dodgers at night.

From Scully he learned many things, but the biggest one was: The game is the thing, and the broadcaster must stay out of the way of it.

"Vin Scully can compose in his head what it would take someone 20 minutes of blood at a typewriter to write," Miller said. "I remember once when Mays hit a home run to pass, I think, Ted Williams on the all-time list, and after the game the rest of us would have said, 'It came on an 0-2 pitch off Claude Osteen in the fifth . . .'

"What Vinny said sounded like history -- 'At 9:47, in the City by the Bay, William Howard Mays . . .' It was beautiful. He was doing poetry and putting this thing in perspective."

By the time he was 13, Miller's voice had changed, leaving him with one that is still deep and distinctive. As a kid he did broadcasts as he played board baseball games. He went to his high school's basketball games and did play-by-play for an imaginary radio station.

He attended the College of San Mateo for 2 1/2 years, and when the Vietnam fighting was at its hottest, he started skipping classes to attend antiwar demonstrations.

Then he skipped antiwar demonstrations to drive to Visalia to broadcast college baseball games.

"I was really a bizarre kid," he says now. "In the '60s, my high school friends would be going to parties, to the Fillmore or wherever. I'd be doing a postgame show."

A few months before his 21st birthday, he was hired as sports director for a new San Francisco area television station. He worked about 70 hours a week and made $500 a month while learning to edit film, write scripts, do interviews.

When the station folded in August 1973, he began sending audition tapes to 24 minor-league teams, and just when he was about to go to work doing the Wichita, Kan., Aeros, he got his first big break.

The Oakland A's, winners of back-to-back championships and on their way to a third, hired him to work with Monte Moore.

"I owe former A's broadcaster Monte Moore more than I could ever owe any living human on this earth," Miller said. "I'd sent Finley a tape, and Finley sent them to Monte, who had a principle that if someone went to the trouble to send him a tape, he'd listen to it. He listened, interviewed me twice and hired me. It was an incredible break. I was in my home town doing the best team in baseball. I should have paid them because of the education I got."

It lasted one year. Finley showed up at a banquet in Chicago, saw a former White Sox broadcaster and offered him a job.

"The condition was the guy had to take it on the spot," Miller said. "Charlie didn't tell me for two weeks, but here I am at 23, thinking I'm washed up."

For the next three years, Miller made a good living doing soccer, college basketball and various other sports, and just when he thought he would not do baseball again, the Rangers, on Moore's recommendation, called.

Miller had married in the summer of 1974, and in the spring of 1978, he and his wife packed their belongings and moved to Texas. He did the Rangers for two seasons and the Boston Red Sox for three before landing in Baltimore. He has never wanted to do anything else.

Like that of the players he talks about, his life style is a weird mixture of night games, late meals and long flights. He has a huge collection of movies, many of which he watches in the hours after a home game when he can't sleep.

He fights a constant battle with his waistline and is a nonstop nibbler of hot dogs, potato chips, whatever is around.

And if he is sometimes lonely for companionship, he also seems to love his work and the game he is associated with.

He has had offers to do television work and listens when colleagues tell him radio will soon be extinct, but his answer is the same:

"I grew up with radio and might be part of the last generation to do that," he said. "I got in this business to do games on radio, and that's what I want to do. Exposure and money have nothing to do with it. What I like is the craft it takes to paint a picture with words."

In this era of happy talk and three people gabbing at once, Miller is a throwback to the old days. He prefers to work alone, and that explains why there is very little on-air exchanges between him and his boothmate Tom Marr. He sets his own scenes, using only the brush in his voice.

That's the way Vin Scully does it for the Dodgers, and that's the way Jon Miller wants to do it for the Orioles. He is one man in a room telling one man in another room about a game.

"That," he said, "is the essence of the work."