Fans of fans have been keeping an eye trained here for months, for no athletic group in memory has been assaulted so heavily and from so many angles.

The winter of '78-'79? There was heavy snow, of course. But the worst drifts were unseen, though hardly infelt, as flake upon calamitous flake of frustration and uncertainty piled up almost daily.

It began last fall, when the Orioles finished third -- or was it fourth? -- in their division. And a player they had allowed to escape without so much as a candy bar in return, Reggie Jackson, helped the hated Yankees win another World Series.

About the some time, the best Colt runner in a generation, Lydell Mitchell, traded racial insults with the owner and was traded. Then the best right arm in the NFL, or the best beyond Pittsburgh, went limp. And so did the blockers. And the defense already was in sorry shape.

And the new year began on an old note. The Colts' owner was publicly courting Los Angeles. And the Orioles' owner was courting anyone with two dimes to rub togeter, possinly allowing the team to fall into the slippery hands of that two loser at the other end of the Parkway -- Washington.

Scarcely a day went by without another flurry of dreadful news. If Robert Irsay was not threatening to fire every Colt assistant, he was taking with L.A. officials desperate to replace their Anaheim-bound Rams in 1980.

And Jerold Hoffberger overshadowed Teng in the papers. His Orioles would be playing Simon Says, it once seemed certain. Or the state might own half the team, prompting one to imagine a news item beginning: "The Maryland legislature today voted Mike er...."

Athletic matters here range from folly to close encounters of the worst kind. And though the Baltimore fan may be battered, he still is able to muster the energy to say, loudly enough for half the world to hear:

"Hey, clown, we still got one more ball club than you guys in Washington."

Then Turkey Joe Trabert leaned back against a wall, patted his evershrinking stomach and laughed. Any sporting sociological expedition into Baltimore Fandom inevitably finds its way inside Turkey Joe's saloon at Fells Point.

All the frustrations and fantasies, the venom and even the logic of the Baltimore fan seem best expressed by this happy, 43-year-old fellow with the unevenly kept beard and knitted Boston Bruins cap.

Turkey Joe considered himself the No. 1 Oriole fan in town, until his friend Bill Jones bought a home near Memorial Stadium to avoid the hassle of finding an off-street parking spot.

In good time, Turkey Joe landed several telling -- and well seserved -- blows on the Colts and Orioles, sailed something called "ethnocentricity" down the bar just after another Lite can and even had a team hethought suitable for Washington.

First, he said: "The Colts aren't leaving town and neither are the Orioles. Irsay was just using that (talk with L.A.) as a way to get a practice site. And Hoffberger's not gonna let the Orioles get away.

"They've said: "Here's the money,' even put it in his hand. But he doesn't close his hand."

Irsay's is the most certain name to stir a Baltimorean's passion and Turkey Joe volunteered: "The man should have stayed in air conditioning. He knows nothing about football. And he calls everybody "Tiger.' Any body who does that ought to buy Clemson.

"I realize injuries hurt the Colts this year, but (Coach Ted) Marchibroda simply doesn't know how to adjust. They better make some trades, get a runner."

Turkey Joe is most devoted to the Orioles -- and saddened to have to admit that "Kansas City is what baseball used to be in Baltimore, players struggling all the time and a good organization.

"(General Manager) Hank Peters wouldn't know a player if he came right up and said: 'Hi, my name's Ted WILLIAMS, I'm from San Diego, my mom works for the Salvation Army, I swing lefty and would like to swat some over the fence for you.'

"And that Spanish tumbling act they got in the outfield. Me, I like nice guys who try hard and don't take the money and run. Which means I love Eddie Murray. And Palmer. I'm afraid Flanagan's going to try so hard he'll hurt his arm.

"Baltimore is a great sports town, except for one thing. The people here are not high rollers -- and we're expected to be like New York. We're basically small industry, a small town surrounded by a beltway. And as long as the stadium is in the inner city, with pcor access, we're gonna stay a small town."

Which leads us to ethnocentricity, Turkey Joe's plot to boost Oriole attendance past the allegedly insurmountable 1.2 million for a season.

"This is a town of small ethnic groups," he said. "You're in the middle of the Polish neighborhood. Two blocks away are the Greeks, five blocks away are the Ukrainians. You had to drive through Little Italy to get here. And Cornbeef Row, the Jewish neighborhood, isn't far away.

"Why the Orioles don't make use of this I don't know. There could be a Polish Night, a german Night, a Greek Night, all of 'em with appropriate food. Who in hell wouldn't want to go see something like that?

"And you're already getting your money's worth on the field."

The team for Washington? Could Baltimore be going soft?

"My idea," he said, and his eyes began dancing, "is to collect all the guys who couldn't make it with any other team, every malcontent in baseball, and put 'em in Washington. Call 'em the Travelin' Turkeys.

"Dick Allen would be on it. And Alex Johnson and Mike Marshall. And Bobby Bonds. Me and Billy Jones had a whole team, position by position, picked out not long ago. Of course, Bowie Kuhn would be the manager.

"They could do whatever they wanted. Wear any uniform they wanted -- as long as it wasn't ours."