If you take in a baseball game at Dodger Stadium this summer, you might get the feeling that you’re in Staples Center. That’s because longtime Los Angeles Kings and Lakers organist Dieter Ruehle is the new organist for the Dodgers.
Being the man behind the keyboard for three professional sports teams in Los Angeles is unique.
“I don’t think anyone else can say that they work for three pro teams,” says Josh Gold-Smith, a sports writer and creator of the Twitter account @organistalert, which is dedicated to following sports organists across the country.
As an organist for an NHL team, Ruehle is no rarity. Gold-Smith says 25 of the 30 teams in the league employ an organist. But in terms of the other sports, he's part of a dying breed. According to Gold-Smith, only four NBA teams employ an organist; in the MLB, Ruehle is one of about 17.
Gold-Smith says many organists play at sporting venues in a part-time capacity while doing other things, such as playing at churches or teaching. For instance, Paul Cartier, organist for the New York Islanders and part-timer for the New York Yankees, is also a volunteer fireman.
“Dieter is one of the rare guys who, this is his thing — this is his full-time thing,” Gold-Smith says. “He loves doing it, and he does it for multiple teams. Not everyone can say that.”
Other organists who work for multiple teams besides Ruehle and Cartier are Bruce Anderson of the Washington Capitals and Wizards, Jeremy Boyer of the St. Louis Blues and Cardinals, and Ray Castoldi of the New York Rangers and Knicks.
This season, Ruehle will be the Dodgers' full-time organist. Gold-Smith says the grind of the Major League Baseball season prevents many organists from working for a baseball team more than just part-time.
Although this is the first year that the 47-year-old Ruehle will be playing full-time at Dodger Stadium, he’s no stranger to Chavez Ravine.
“I had been filling in on the organ at Dodger Stadium since 2013,” Ruehle says. “During this past off-season, the Dodgers asked if I was interested [in a full-time position].”
Dodgers director of production Greg Taylor says that Ruehle was at the top of the team’s list when longtime organist Nancy Bea Hefley retired at the end of last season.
“There was definitely a comfort level there,” Taylor says. “We knew that he was familiar with the routine and we knew what his capabilities were.”
It’s a routine that Ruehle says won’t differ much from playing at Staples Center.
Game time at Staples usually is 7:30 p.m. on weekday nights, and at Dodger Stadium it's typically 7 p.m. This means getting to the park at about 3 p.m. and staying until about 11 p.m. Just your typical eight-hour workday.
Working for an MLB team in addition to an NBA and an NHL team can present some scheduling issues; the Dodgers’ season was just kicking off as the Kings were starting their playoff run.
Taylor didn’t think scheduling would be an issue when Ruehle was hired.
“We felt comfortable enough that we could weather the storm,” he says. “The first homestand we had a guy that he uses as a backup fill in for two games, and he did fine, and we have one other person who said that he would be available if there were any conflicts.”
Ruehle says the plan was that Kings playoff games would take priority in the spring, and Dodgers playoff games would come first in the fall. It turned out to be not much of a problem this spring when the Kings were sent packing after a first-round series with San Jose.
That Ruehle is on the organ for teams in three different sports is a testament to his versatility.
“There’s a lot of coordination involved — it’s different for every sport,” Gold-Smith says. “Knowing [he] can play while the pitcher’s warming up [in baseball] versus in hockey, [he] only gets to play during the breaks when the puck goes out of play or before there’s a face-off. It’s different in every sport, and not everyone can do that.” And in the NBA, the organist can play even as the game is going on.
Ruehle's also responsible for some of the other sounds fans hear during sporting events.
“I sound the goal horns when the Kings take the ice and score goals, and during Lakers games I play a defense chant live on a drum machine,” Ruehle says. “For the Dodgers, we have a DJ who handles all of the recorded music, but I play all of the fan prompts, either live on the organ, or I trigger all the recorded fan clapping prompts as well.”
Ruehle is a veteran of the L.A. sports scene. He's been playing for the Lakers since 2001 and the Kings since 1998. He also had an earlier stint with the Kings from 1989 to 1992.
However, he’ll have some big shoes to fill with the Dodgers. His predecessor played at Chavez Ravine for 28 years.
Hefley was the longest-tenured organist in team history, according to Dodgers historian Mark Langill.
“The main thing that sticks with me [about Hefley] is how much fans loved her,” says Gold-Smith. “The connection that she forged with Dodgers fans over the years – that’s not just something that goes away in an instant.”
It may take a few years for Ruehle to become as much a part of the Dodger Stadium experience as Hefley.
“There will be people who love Dieter and know him from his work with the Lakers and the Kings. And there are people who will say, ‘Oh, he’s not Nancy!’” Gold-Smith says. “It’s understandable that people would be attached to her and miss her.”
Some people may have had the impression that the Dodgers were phasing out the organ. Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke wrote an article last year in which he talked about Hefley’s frustration with her diminished role at the stadium.
She was down to playing not much more than three or four songs a night after playing as many as 50 songs in years past, according to Plaschke’s story.
Taylor, though, says that there was never any discussion about getting rid of the organ. For fans, that's a good thing. If Dodger Stadium is indeed one of baseball’s cathedrals, getting rid of the organ would have been sacrilege.
Major League Baseball celebrated 75 years of organ music last month; the Dodgers have employed an organist since 1942.
“Baseball's the only sport that I know of where, during one particular break that happens every game, fans stand and sing along with the organ,” Ruehle says. “I think that's pretty neat!”
That particular break is, of course, the seventh-inning stretch.
Besides singing along to Ruehle’s rendition of the traditional “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” fans can look forward to hearing the new organist play a range of contemporary music.
“There’s a lot of overlap between what fans like and what he likes,” Gold-Smith says. “He’s playing songs that fans can recognize immediately, whether it’s something from Star Wars or Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.”
Gold-Smith says Ruehle also has a knack for playing songs that fit with the teams involved in the game.
For Kings games, that means playing the Game of Thrones main title theme and “The Throne Room” from Star Wars.
“I sometimes try to think of a subtle way to acknowledge the visiting team and/or city,” Ruehle says. “For instance, when the Montreal Canadiens were in town [against the Kings], I played ‘Les Canadiens Sont La!’”
During a recent USC theme night at Dodger Stadium, Ruehle played a song that’s intimately associated with the Trojan Marching Band, Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk.”
You can get a sense of what Ruehle likes to play via the Kings’ online music blog, which chronicles the organ sets for each game.
Ruehle was invited to Rio de Janeiro to play during the Olympics this summer, but the gig at Dodger Stadium means he won't be able to make it. Ruehle has played at five previous Olympic Games, from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Sochi, Russia.
With so many gigs, does Ruehle ever rest?
“Working 10 straight days happens from time to time. At the end of a 10-day stretch of games, while I love my job, I do find it nice to have free time,” he says.
A 10-game stretch last month included working the Dodgers’ Opening Day and Jackie Robinson Day as well as a couple of Kings playoff games.
Ultimately, it's a pretty sweet gig.