Bottom of the first, and the Orioles are already three down. Igor Kleyner, a Soviet Jew from Leningrad wearing a Boston Celtics tank top, sips a giant Coke and tries to absorb the All-American game.

"Well, what is purpose of bunt?" Kleyner intently asks an American companion. "Ah, you mean he sacrificed himself.

"Already it makes sense," he says with a laugh, adding, "I don't know what kind of sense."

Like others among the 500 Soviet Jews who have immigrated to this area in the last year, Kleyner is getting a crash course in things American, courtesy of the D.C. Jewish Community Center.

Last week, community center members took Soviet families for a picnic at the National Zoo. In July there was a trip for singles to a Sunday Orioles game. This fall there will be a scavenger hunt around Washington hot spots and a tour of national monuments.

"We'll teach them how to use Metro, how to buy a car, how to use the bank," said Sharon Bray, community services director at the community center. "We've been told they get overwhelmed."

At a tour of the Super Giant grocery store in Rockville last month, "the biggest questions were about the cheese -- all the different kinds, what they taste like," said Gayle Schindler, co-chairman of the center's Soviet Jewry Committee.

"The friendship network kicks in," Schindler added. "The Jewish community is trying very hard to see that no one goes without friends."

Kleyner, 23, is what's known in immigration parlance as a "free case." He has no relatives in the United States and is being sponsored here by the Washington area Jewish community.

He left home, he says, not specifically because of anti-Semitism, but in despair at the entire Soviet system. There was "no place to apply my knowledge, to do anything real . . . no reason to study, no reason to work. I felt there is real life somewhere, but there is no real life there," he said.

Other Soviet Jews here said anti-Semitism was a major factor in their decision to leave. But some are afraid to speak publicly, for fear of retaliation against families left behind.

Kleyner applied to leave in May 1989, well after emigration barriers had eased, and got permission by August. But his parents stayed behind. "They were not as desperate to leave," he said. "They are very old. It's not so easy for them to change."

Like other Soviets hoping to go to the United States rather than Israel, Kleyner spent half a year in temporary refugee housing in Italy waiting for a visa. Then he found out he was coming to Washington. "I didn't end up -- they ended me up here," he said. "The Washington Jewish community sent papers, opened a community, offered assurances. I tried to guess where it was."

He was met at the airport by American Jews and placed in a garden apartment complex in Gaithersburg with two other single Soviets, one from Moscow and one from Leningrad, who had also just arrived.

"At first it was kind of a shock," he said, "but just getting out of the Soviet Union was the biggest step."

After just a few months, Kleyner, a lively young man with curly black hair and an engaging smile, got his first U.S. job as an engineering assistant at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. An American Jew who works at Goddard helped him get the interview.

He has only one big regret: It takes two hours each way to commute from Gaithersburg to Goddard, and he doesn't have the money yet to buy a car. "I feel like I'm very stupid not to get a car," he said.

What does Kleyner like about America? "The roads. Skyscrapers. I'm not crazy about ice cream. TV -- of course it's great, but I hate all those commercials. Sometimes I just can't stand it.

"I'm getting more used to everything," he said.

As emigration barriers have dropped in the Soviet Union, and with anti-Semitism fueling the exodus, the American Jewish community has spread out a warm welcome.

Washington is a major area of settlement for Soviet Jews, probably eighth or ninth largest in the United States, according to Robert Hyfler, director of budget and planning for the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington. It's taken in almost 900 in three years, he said.

The federation sets overall resettlement policy, raises funds for the program, and coordinates volunteer efforts, said Shelly Horn, a federation spokeswoman. It is also contributing to a national fund to pay for resettlement in other parts of the country more overwhelmed by the new immigrants.

United Jewish Appeal-funded agencies provided other services. The Jewish Social Service Agency offers counseling, housing referrals, medical exams and job placement, as well as financial help to pay for food, transportation and housing for the first three months. It also oversees donations of furniture and housewares from Washington area residents.

The Jewish Community Center in Rockville provides intensive English and citizenship classes as well as social activities. Local synagogues and Hebrew schools introduce the newcomers to Jewish traditions.

Soviet Jews, like other immigrants deemed refugees, are also eligible for food stamps and Medicaid after 30 days here, and for other U.S. government benefits, including welfare, after four months. "But most don't need it, because they already have jobs," said Judie Fine-Helfman of the United Jewish Appeal.

An extensive volunteer network has sprung up. Local residents can "adopt" Soviet families, teaching them to bank and shop, or simply drive them to job interviews and medical appointments. Schindler and her husband work with one family, helping with their resume's and looking over their lease. Some Jewish doctors and dentists are offering free services to the new immigrants.

"Three months is the period when they are in the womb," said Horne. "But it's many months before they are totally on their own."

"The Jewish community paves the way well enough that they are not economically in danger," said Schindler. "But still it's not easy."

Helen Ginderova is another "free case," here five months with her mother but without other relatives in the United States. Her father and sister are still in the Soviet Union.

Ginderova, 25, and her mother also stayed in refugee quarters in Italy before receiving word of their final destination. "It was written 'Rockville' on this piece of paper," she said. They arrived with just four suitcases.

They were placed in the same Gaithersburg apartment complex as Kleyner, and Ginderova quickly got a job -- and a long commute -- as an estimator with a construction firm in the District.

Ginderova, soft-spoken and wearing a pink and yellow Hollywood sweatshirt, was invited to Shabbat dinners at the D.C. Jewish Community Center and then to serve on its Soviet Jewry Committee. "I met a lot of new friends," she said. "I wanted to be helpful."

Now she's looking forward to a new apartment in Rockville, closer to work, her friends and Washington.

But her mother, who does not speak English well, has not yet found a job despite her experience as a vocational teacher in the Soviet Union. "It's really hard to start from scratch," the daughter said. "Economically, it's not easy."

Ginderova cheerfully admitted she found the Baltimore Orioles "boring. I was wondering why Americans are so crazy about this game. Now, I'm still wondering," she said.

Still, she is delighted with her new home. "We knew about the hardship, we were prepared for it," she said. "The U.S. is more possibilities."