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It's all about the players; Fantasy sports fans blur loyalty lines to win.

Byline: Scott J. Croteau

A collective groan throughout Red Sox Nation rumbled across New England after the team's heralded pitching staff bombed in Texas. Fantasy sports fans looked at the box scores, and grimaced or rejoiced.

While sports fans care about which team wins, fantasy sports fans care about how well each individual player performed.

When Josh Beckett stepped to the mound Monday to stop the Sox's losing skid, Scott R. Veith was watching the pitcher's statistics as much as he was the game itself.

"I always check the box scores," said Mr. Veith, 29, of Worcester.

A Sox loss can have a silver lining if the players on his fantasy team did well. Or a win can be tainted by poor performances by his fantasy player.

"Sometimes being a fantasy player ruins the games," he said. "Your team might have won, but your pitcher gave up five runs."

Every day, fantasy sports enthusiasts check stat lines, injury reports and roster movements in order to keep their team clicking. The goal is to obtain the best-performing players on their fantasy team, and for that team to beat other fantasy teams in the same league.

For some fantasy fans, the hobby is their main connection to old friends.

Rick G. Mullen, an Algonquin Regional High School graduate who now lives in Natick, meets up with his Syracuse University friends every year for one of his drafts.

"We fly to a different city every year to do our draft," the 31-year-old said. "It is a good friendly competition, but at the same time it is a good way to catch up with your buddies."

He estimates he'll spend a little more than $1,000 a year on his fantasy sports habit.Fantasy sports revenues reach into the hundreds of millions, with major companies all taking a piece of the action. Lawsuits have been filed in federal court while players and companies argued over the use of player names and statistics without a license.

Paul Charchian, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, which runs fantasy league finance management website, said the last revenue estimate done in 2008 showed the fantasy sports business took in $800 million.The group's last survey, in 2010, showed 27 million people played fantasy sports. Football is the biggest draw. About 75 percent of fantasy players carefully watch the gridiron. Baseball draws about 45 percent, Mr. Charchian said.

"Fantasy players are so engaged with their pastime," Mr. Charchian said. "They aren't casual page flippers. They've got their nose to the monitor."

Jim Ingram, 33, of Milford, said he heads to work a little early every morning so he can set his fantasy baseball team lineup. At night, he will hit the Web and look for hot players, or send trades to his friends. He estimates he spends 30 minutes a day keeping up with his three fantasy baseball teams.

While some fantasy leagues are cutthroat, others play purely for fun. Mr. Veith's fantasy football league, rife with friends who playfully jab one another, has quirky rules. Fantasy teams gain points based on a player's performance. Some leagues have weekly scores, or a season-long accrual of points, in different statistical categories.

In football, most leagues have players from the important offensive categories - quarterback, wide receiver, running back - on a roster. Actual points scored are worth points, but some leagues also give points for yards gained or some other statistic."For one week we will do kicker versus kicker," Mr. Veith said, laughing about the odd rule change for his fantasy football league. "That is more of a joke-around, needle-the-other-guy kind of league."

The savvy fantasy player knows to separate his fantasy team from the team he roots for. A lifelong Red Sox fan will root for the Yankees - or more specifically, one Yankee - if it helps his fantasy team.

"I'm a big Sox fan, but I have four Yankees on my team," said Mr. Mullen. "At the end of the day, I want to win."

Mr. Veith, also a Sox fan, agreed: "A good player is a good player. I don't really care what uniform he is in. If it will help me win a championship, I will take nine guys from the Yankees."


CUTLINE: (PHOTO) Jim Ingram, of Milford, sits in his home among some of his sports memorabilia. (CHART) Reasons people start to play fantasy sports

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 8, 2011
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