The K-Men have been a Fenway Park staple since 1998, the year that Pedro Martinez took Boston by storm. At every one of Pedro’s home starts, the face-painted, red-clad group would cheer every strikeout and post large, red “K” signs on the back wall of the center field bleachers.
All these years later, the K-Men are still going strong. And they’ve weathered the changing landscape of the Red Sox and Fenway Park, too. When Pedro left the Red Sox following the 2004 season, the K-Men began posting “K’s” for a rotating cast of Red Sox pitchers. When the center field bleachers were renovated, the K-Men moved to their current perch at the end of the Green Monster seats.
NESN Nation caught up with one of the original K-Men to learn more about these Fenway favorites.
We talked to Rick “Fitzy” Kilpatrick, a self-described “die-hard Red Sox fan” who by day is a schoolteacher and basketball coach. He shared his thoughts on the K-Men’s history, why it’s so difficult to find the right kind of face paint, and what his most memorable game as a K-Man has been.
NESN Nation: How did the K-Men tradition start?
Fitzy: It started in Pedro’s first year. The two that really first posted the K’s were two guys named Ryan McCarthy and Kirk Carapezza. They’re both from Wayland [Mass.] and I grew up in Wayland. So, Kirk and Ryan were the first two who posted “K’s,” and then Ryan’s dad and myself and probably three or four of us joined in that first season. It’s just kind of grown since then. We’ve had other friends and acquaintances come to games over the years and now we have probably a dozen of us that are still involved.
We’ve definitely had some turnover, too. Maybe seven or eight of us are from the first two years, and there’s probably another four that have joined over the last six years. We’ve also lost some members because they moved away or got lives, I guess. [Laughs] I don’t know. I guess we still don’t have lives. I will say about two-thirds of us are still here from the first bunch.
NN: What does a typical game day schedule look like?
Fitzy: We’ll often meet a couple hours before the game, and then we’ll get some food. We like to get in at least 45 minutes before the first pitch and just kinda prep. Now, we’re up on the Monster, whereas we originally started in the center-field bleachers.
Then we bring in the “K’s.” We always bring 27, just because you never know. And we have a number of different signs that we’ve made over the years. We added a “Gonzo” sign to the collection this year [for Adrian Gonzalez], and we have a “Youk!” sign [for Kevin Youkilis] and things like that.
And we have the face paint as well, obviously, which is a big part of it. We tried different ones, and we found one that we liked because it came off really easy and it wasn’t as pasty as some other ones. They produced it with a company in Texas called “Snazaroo”, and we started buying it in large volume.
And then we just get going at the first pitch.
NN: You started posting “K” signs for Pedro Martinez, but since his departure you’ve posted them for other pitchers on the team. How do you decide who to post “K’s” for?
Fitzy: Pedro was obviously a big part of our history, and I think that was, for us, the best time to be a K-Man. When he left, we decided it by a combination of voting in the group but also who we thought would give us the most K’s. So when Pedro first left, we went with [Curt] Schilling. That didn’t work very well, mainly because he had injuries. In fact, one year, they put him as a closer so we were sort of out of business for half a season.
After him, we went to Daisuke [Matsuzaka], then Josh Beckett. We just kind of got caught up in the Dice-K mania. We had heard so much about him, and how he was this great strikeout pitcher, so we did him. Although I think we only did him for a year, just because the games were so painfully long. Plus, he didn’t strike anybody out! He kept getting fouled off with two strikes.
And then we went to Beckett for a couple of years, but then he had some injury problems. I think selfishly, we want to post for somebody who’s healthy, so then we can go to these games. So last year, we voted to switch over to [Jon] Lester. This is our second year with Lester, and we love him because he’s a horse, he’s always out there, and he’s a good strikeout pitcher. And obviously, he’s such an easy guy to want to root for and be a part of his game. So I think we’ll definitely be with him for a while.
NN: How did this thing that you started progress into the phenomenon that it is today?
Fitzy: I think a big part of it for us was that those first maybe five or six years, we were in the center-field bleachers. When they took that high wall out of center-field, they had to move us to the Monster Seats walkway just because there was no wall left to post “K’s” on.
The first five years or so, when we were out there, I think a big part of it was that we were right amongst the bleacher fans. So it was not only us posting “K’s” and having fun, but we’d get the whole bleacher section involved. And when Pedro used to get strikeouts, we’d count off how many strikeouts he had in Spanish. I mean, you had the whole bleacher section yelling “Uno! Dos!” depending on how many he had. We were out there for multiple double-digit strikeout games. So I think the crowd involvement was a big part of it, and that’s what started to draw people’s attention. Then it kind of built up from there.
NN: What was your most memorable game as a member of the K-Men?
Fitzy: It’s funny because I knew you were going to ask me that, so I was thinking about that yesterday. It’s tough.
Interestingly enough, I think some of the best games we’ve seen and we’ve posted “K’s” at have been on the road. We were at Pedro’s 17-strikeout game at Yankee Stadium, and we also drove out to Cleveland for Game 5 of the ’99 divisional series when they came back from down two to zero [in the series], and Pedro came out in relief with the bad shoulder and pitched 6 hitless innings. Those were two of our best games.
I would say for me personally, the 17-strikeout Pedro game at Yankee Stadium when they beat them 2-1 was the best game that we ever saw Pedro pitch. Just being there at Yankee Stadium and posting “K’s.” Even though we got a lot of stuff thrown at us, we did it anyways. I think that might have been the high moment for me as a K-Man.
(Photo courtesy of the Boston K-Men official website)
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