The Orioles announced proudly last winter that 10 percent of their 1977 crowds had come from the Washington area.

I know those guys. I almost got in a fight with them. It was at one of those games baseball players call cliff dwellers - a thin-ice, scoreless tie.

This meathead was standing in the middle of the tunnel to the hot dog stand, gorging his huge head with unidentifiable meat and meat byproducts. The Brewers were up.

"Come on," he was shouting. "Get some runs. I want to get out of here. What is this? Six innings and is sports?"

we don't score a single run? This

As an Oriole fan I thought I was being pretty diplomatic. I leaned over and suggested that Wiffle ball. "Why don't you go to the he didn't know his wiener from a demolition derby? This is a game of sublety, for educated people. Like who know how to sit down."

This didn't go over too well, particularly with the busload of 30 heavies he had stashed away behind him in the tunnel. One suggested that since the upper deck didn't seem big enough for all of us, they should toss me off, get it over with and "get back to Washington. This is boring."

"Washington?" I gasped, stretching for straws. "Hey, I'm from Washington, too. Buy you guys a beer?"

Nothing is so fervid as a converted fan, and that's me. I love everything about Baltimore, right down to the burned-out hulk of Shilinski's Lithuanian Sausage Factory, the landmark that tells me to turn left and hang on through downtown till the red brick walls of Memorial Stadium rise up in the distance.

Last year I sold my old van and spent one whole day cleaning Orioles' scorecards out of the back, reliving two years of Grich and May, Bumbry, Jackson, Palmer, Mora, Belanger and the fading Brooks.

I bring a glove to the game and sit in the upper deck unreserved section, where a ball has never been known to go. My friend Kenny and his wife wear their Oriole hats.

"One thing about the Orioles," Kenny says. "You never leave before its over."

That's not because the outcome might change. It's because someone might hit one last routine grounder to Belanger at short, and nothing in life matches the simple perfection of The Blade scooping and firing.

I've probably been to 50 Orioles games since I discovered them three years ago, and I bet in 40 of them they never scored more than two runs.

Sounds frustrating, but there's a peace here you can't find anywhere else, win or lose. It has to do with the way the summer sun eases down and a grey-blue dusk settles over perfect row houses and the green bank of evergreens out beyond center field.TFootball has guns, periods and timeouts; basketball has those sickening buzzers; hockey has sirens. They're all played in tight little closed-up worlds. A baseball game, at least in theory, could go on forever.

Imagine that. Eighteen handsome athletes frolicking eternally on the perfect emerald green of Memorial Stadium, munching from time to time on the baseball-size magic tomatoes Earl Weaver grows in his garden in the left-field corner.

Orioles fans understand immortality.

Last year the Yanks were in town. Paul Blair, who thrilled Baltimore for years with his graceful center field ballet, had been traded. He was playing for New York.

Lee May lofted a long fly ball to right-center and Blair was off at the crack of the bat, streaking easily to where the ball would land.

Incredibly, he didn't make it. The ball skipped over his glove and the galloping May settled in with a triple.

Baltimore fans don't forget.

"Blair would have had it," someone said.