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Loyal Sox fan Taylor sings anthem

Local favorite Taylor thrills Fenway fans

BOSTON -- James Taylor was positively beaming as he stood behind home plate at Fenway Park early Thursday afternoon.

Preparing to rehearse the national anthem, Taylor, born in Boston and a loyal Red Sox fan, submitted his list of elements closely tied to New Englanders.

"We identify ourselves by a number of things," Taylor said. "Maple sugar, lobsters, the leaves turning, the Boston Tea Party and the Sox. It's part of our blood."

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Add to that list Sweet Baby James, one of Boston's -- and America's -- most beloved music legends. Taylor performed the national anthem prior to Game 2 of the World Series in 2004, and he returned to Fenway Park on Thursday to give a repeat performance.

As he prepared for a sound check several hours before the actual performance, Taylor was generous with praise for the Red Sox, their ownership and even two of the Red Sox's three opponents this postseason -- the Rockies and Indians.

"I have huge respect for Colorado, and for Cleveland, too," Taylor said. "I remember being here for the first game of the [American League Championship Series]. People were talking to me about it and I said, 'We feel so strong, it feels that nothing can beat us.' And then we were [down three games to one]. The whole thing is reset every time a pitcher takes the mound."

As he continued to wax poetic about baseball, Taylor became more and more animated as he talked about the Red Sox.

"What's happened with this ownership with the club, the connection they've made with the community, the way it feels now, there's a great rebirth, a great energy and vitality about it," he said. "It's a thrill, particularly for those of us who waited such a long time. Oh man, does it feel good."

But back to singing. Taylor admitted performing the national anthem is a unique experience, seeing this performance lasts only a few minutes, a stark contrast to the elaborate concerts he's held for more than three decades.

"You have to focus on what you're singing and not on what you're hearing back through your ears," he said. "It comes back at you five seconds removed. It's great, though. It's over in a second, too, which is unusual for me. Usually I'm working for an hour or two hours."

It's not uncommon to hear musicians say they wish they could be ballplayers and vice versa, but Taylor, a multiple Grammy winner who possesses one of the most recognizable singing voices in history, said he wouldn't trade places with a Major Leaguer.

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"I'd much rather be doing what I do," he said. "There's no more stressful situation that I can think of, other than parachuting behind enemy lines at night. I think nothing else could make you feel more stressful and could be more daunting than take the mound against this team. Hats off to those guys."

Once Taylor finished his sound check, he walked down the right-field line to greet R&B group Boyz II Men, who were slated to sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. Boyz II Men recorded five No. 1 hits between 1992 and 1997. Currently, the group is gearing up to release its new album, "Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA" on Nov. 13 on Decca Records.

Hailing from Philadelphia, Boyz II Men is not necessarily rooting for the Red Sox. But the group clearly enjoys baseball and can appreciate the Red Sox experience from afar.

"What's great about the Red Sox is the fact that a squad that had such a long-running drought finally broke it, and they've been hot ever since," said band member Shawn Stockman. "I've got respect and love for the Red Sox and their history."

The celebrity sightings at Fenway Park on Thursday weren't limited to musicians. Actor Richard Gere was spotted on the field during batting practice, taking in the scene with his young son.

"I've never been to anything remotely like this," Gere said. "It's a big deal."

Pop country superstar and American Idol winner Carrie Underwood will perform the national anthem in Game 3 at Colorado's Coors Field.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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