Those "K" signs hanging at Nats Park
On the first night of Strasmas, there were few visible hanging 'K' signs at Nats Park, and at least some of the ones that showed up were taken back down by security. By the third night of Strasmas, there were beautiful color-appropriate Ks out in center field, under the Miller Lite sign on the scoreboard. This is their story.
James Rychlik had a seat for Stephen Strasburg's debut earlier this month, but he decided to stand by the railing in right-center field, figuring he'd have a better view of the phenom. The perch worked well, so when he came back for last Friday's game - Strasburg's second home start - Rychlik again headed to that white railing.
This time, though, 38 large white posters were hanging by that rail - 19 of forward-looking Ks, and 19 of the reversed variety. Each red, white and blue sign was fastened to the railing, and each was neatly notated on the back: 1 SO Looking, 1 SO Swinging, 2 SO Looking, and so on.
Rychlik was standing by No. 1., and an usher asked whether he'd be willing to flip the signs as Strasburg recorded strikeouts. So he did the first three or four and then made sure his neighbors handled the rest.
Strasburg, of course, struck out 10 on that night - giving him the most ever through three games for an MLB pitcher. And when Rychlik came back Wednesday for the fourth day of Strasmas, he was back in his perch, making sure the Ks were flipped properly.
"Best part of my day," Rychlik quipped, after flipping his second K of the afternoon.
There was something particularly Washington about this version of the K display - the signs were professionally done, and fastened to the stadium, and not at all the spontaneous creation of delirious fans. And yet there was a certain organic anarchy to the actual flipping, with the next man up standing tall when duty called.
One of the fans in that little shady heaven was at just his second big-league game. There were two fans in Washington basketball jerseys - one a Gilbert Areans, the other a Michael Jordan throwback. Two claimed to be regulars, but then admitted they were just trying to get their names into the paper. And a half-dozen guys up from Virginia Beach served the flipping role after Rychlik's reach was surpassed.
"I'm under a lot of stress; I know I'm gonna be on TV," said Mark Mayo.
"I'm not flipping anything," maintained his buddy, Keith Ashbury. "I drink, I don't flip. I got people here to flip for me."
Jimmy Reagan stepped up to flip the fourth K and did so flawlessly; "he finally found a part-time job!" Mayo observed.
By the seventh K, the torch had been passed to yet another group, one of whom was an actual engineer. But he struggled to make his motion.
"The grommet was off," complained Mike Saliter. "Powered through it, man. Just working out the kinks."
Three guys collaborated on the eighth and ninth Ks, the last of which gave Strasburg the most strikeouts ever for a rookie through four games. This job, it would seem, isn't going away. And yet there were no team employees supervising, no one to make sure each K was facing in the right direction. The supplies may have been corporate, but the execution was from the people.
"No one ever came up and said 'Now flip the backwards K,' " marveled Scott Woodcock, who helped flip the eighth. "I was surprised they would just leave it up to a drunk like myself."
He wasn't, of course, drunk, and neither was Rychlik. One fan offered to buy the latter a beer, but he abstained. He isn't sure he can make Strasburg's next start, since he's scheduled to work until 3 p.m. on July 3 and the Fox broadcast means the game will begin at 4:10, but he pledged to attend every home Strasburg start after that.
"I try to keep an eye, and make sure everyone's flipping the right one," he said. "I'm like the mayor up here now."
If you want to help him, I'm sure he wouldn't mind. It almost definitely means you'll be on television; MASN showed these Ks at least five times on Wednesday.
(And yes, since these very nice signs are affixed to the railing, they are now used for every home game, regardless if Strasburg is on the mound. But I'll betcha more people pay attention every fifth day.)
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