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Far-flung Red Sox fans connect on social media

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, posts on Twitter about Syria and the Sox.

AP/File

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, posts on Twitter about Syria and the Sox.

Throughout the Red Sox playoff run, Samantha Palczynski had defended shortstop Stephen Drew to anyone who would listen.

So when Drew made a spectacular leaping grab of a line drive Monday night, the 26-year-old Sox fan did not just nod to herself in satisfaction. “I jumped right onto my phone and onto Twitter,” she said, to take on Drew’s detractors.

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Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have created a kind of virtual sports bar — a place to debate, vent, strategize, and bond — as the game unfolds. It creates a sense of connection, of being part of a bigger group, many say, even when they are alone on the couch.

This year, 64 percent of avid fans reported using Twitter during a game, up from 53 percent a year earlier, according to a fan survey by Catalyst, a consulting company.

After the game, 70 percent used Facebook, up from 55 percent.

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“It makes total sense for sports fans,” said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, who noted that Twitter is built around common interests.

“You want to be part of a community totally focused on the same things you are.”

Geoff Reiss, head of sports at Twitter, said that the most dedicated fans want analysis, from a variety of perspectives. And right away.

“For a big chunk of harder-core fans, just watching the game is not enough,” he said.

“It’s totally changed the way we watch sports.”

Baseball’s more languid pace lends itself to the “side conversation” Twitter allows, he said.

During Monday’s game, an estimated 500,000 Tweets were sent, and were read by well over 60 million people.

“Nothing is as much fun as watching a game with like-minded people,” he said.

A sense of connection is key for far-flung Red Sox fans, who say it helps them experience the passion around the team from afar.

Annie Clark, a Massachusetts native who now lives in New Jersey, said perusing Twitter during a game provides her with a digital community of kindred spirits.

“Down here, I’m very isolated,” said Clark. “But now I’ve always got someone to talk sports with. It's like hanging out with a big group of friends.”

Twitter provides an outlet in another way, Clark said. She would not curse in front of her children, so if the moment calls for a few expletives, no one on the Internet seems to mind.

Ben Chapman, 40, of Avon, said he has chimed in online throughout the World Series, both in jubilation and despair.

After the controversial obstruction call at third base that ended Game 3, he unleashed about 15 Tweets, beginning with “You have to be kidding me.”

“Why can’t anyone on the @RedSox throw to third?” he later lamented on Twitter.

After his wife and kids go to bed, Chapman has mostly been watching the games by himself. But with the running commentary online, it is almost as if he is bantering with his buddies.

“It makes you feel less alone,” he said.

“It’s fun to see the reaction, all the back and forth.”

Fan Tweets can come from unexpected places.

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, interrupted her Twitter stream of posts about Syria to reveal that she, too, is a Red Sox fan.

“Johnny Gomes had two of the greatest at-bats of the playoffs. Nine outs left.” @AmabassadorPower tweeted Sunday night.

Surgeon and writer Atul Gawande has tweeted about the World Series (and has tweeted his pulse during tense moments), as has NPR host Peter Sagal.

For many serious fans, social media has enhanced the experience of watching a live sporting event.

Dan Lebowitz, executive director of The Center for the Study of Sport at Northeastern University, said sports is naturally a “collective conversation,” and that social media allows fans to immerse themselves even deeper.

“It’s sort of the ultimate sports experience,” he said.

Chris Law, a 46-year-old from Concord, said he spends playoff games posting on both Facebook and Twitter, all the while looking up statistics and other background information about the game.

“I try to pay attention to the TV, too,” he quipped.

But Law said the immediacy only adds to the experience. Fans used to have to wait for analysis of big games, or share their excitement with just a few friends.

No longer.

“It’s a live version of sports radio,” he said.

Rachel Murphy, a Pennsylvania college student who grew up in New Hampshire, started a separate Twitter account after her friends complained she was posting about Boston sports too much. She now live-tweets most games.

“If I’m not tweeting during a game, people will write and ask if I’m OK,” she said.

“It makes me feel a little less homesick.”

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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