For the occasional Dodgers fan, attending four or five games at Dodger Stadium each season is a pretty big deal. For the avid, die-hard Dodgers fan, missing four or five games at Dodger Stadium each season is a very big deal. But for one Dodgers fan, missing even one game at Dodger Stadium is both gut-wrenching and costly. That Dodgers fan is 47-year-old Dodger Stadium organist Dieter Ruehle … and make no mistake about it, Dieter Ruehle is a huge Dodgers fan.
“I’m having a great time with it, I love baseball,” Ruehle said, during a recent interview. “Being able to play music here at Dodger Stadium has been very thrilling, very exciting for me.”
Ruehle was born in Van Nuys, California and lived in North Hollywood until he was nine years old. He and his family then moved to nearby Burbank, where he still lives today. As a youngster Ruehle would attended anywhere between 15 and 20 games a year at Dodger Stadium, usually with his father. They always made it a point to arrive early so that he could take in batting practice before the games.
“We’d come early, sit out in the Left Field Pavilion during batting practice and every once in a while catch a batting practice home run. Those were happy memories,” Ruehle recalls fondly.
As for his earliest Dodger Stadium game memory, Ruehle recalls it vividly.
“I want to guess it was 1977, 1978. I think it was my mom who got us tickets on the Field Level just a few rows behind home plate,” Ruehle said. “The Dodgers were playing the Cincinnati Reds and I think Paul Moskau was pitching for the Reds. I just remember being so close to the action and how thrilling it was to watch the Dodgers play the Reds that day because they were big rivals back then … the Big Red Machine – Johnny Bench, George Foster – that stands out as a special memory for me.”
Like most gifted and talented musicians, Ruehle began his trade at a very young age, but learning to play the piano and eventually the organ actually happened sort of by accident.
“My father wanted me to play the violin when I was nine or ten. One day my mom noticed a sign on a lady’s front yard offering classical piano lessons so they both decided ‘Let’s get Dieter into that.’ It’s something that I enjoyed,” said Ruehle. “I remember the teacher told my parents that I really had the talent for it, so that’s how it all started.”
Ruehle continued with his classical piano lesson until age 16 when, like most high school kids, he developed a fondness for more modern music – especially pop music – and he quit taking piano lessons. However, this didn’t stop him from occasionally “rocking the keys” as he calls it.
“I remember being at Burbank High School for a music class and there was a piano in the room. Before class or after class I would sometimes go over and sit down at the piano and play,” Ruehle said. “At that time I started wanting to learn contemporary songs and current pop songs and learning them by ear.”
So how does a high school kid eventually go on to land the organist job with the L.A. Kings, the L.A. Lakers and eventually the L.A. Dodgers? Stand by because Ruehle’s story is a remarkable one.
“I contacted the [L.A.] Forum to see if there were any openings, if they needed an organist, and the Lakers and Kings didn’t but they told me there was an opening with the L.A. Lasers indoor soccer team; and that’s when I was 15 years old,” Ruehle said.
Although the then young Dieter doesn’t specifically recall auditioning for the L.A. Lasers job, he vividly recalls later auditioning for the L.A. Kings job.
“I remember auditioning five years later when the Kings had an opening. They had just changed ownership and uniforms, Wayne Gretzky arrived and they reached out to me and they had me come in on a summer day to play in the Forum on a dark [non-game] day,” said Ruehle. “I think they heard me from being in the building with the Lasers and I ended up getting the job.”
It didn’t take long for the name Dieter Ruehle to pick up speed throughout the Southern California sports scene and he was soon playing for various sporting events at the Forum, the L.A. Sports Arena and eventually at L.A.’s sporting jewel – Staples Center – as the organist for the Kings and Lakers.
“When I was doing the indoor soccer games at the Forum I was also doing the Clippers at the Sports Arena when they had just arrived from San Diego, so I’ve played at all of the major sports complexes in Los Angeles,” Ruehle said.
It was during the 2013 season when Ruehle made his first appearance at Dodger Stadium as a one-day substitute for longtime beloved organist Nancy Bea Hefley. The team had recently undergone an ownership change from troubled Frank (and Jamie) McCourt into the stable hands of Guggenheim Baseball Management Group under the leadership of new team chairman Mark Walter.
“I believe it was May or June of 2013. The Dodgers had reached out to me a few months earlier trying to be prepared for future dates that Nancy Bea Hefley might possibly need to take off during the season,” said Ruehle. “I think it was because I was already established as an organist in the L.A. area and someone here at Dodger Stadium must have heard me play or knew of me, because I didn’t know anybody personally at Dodger Stadium.”
When Nancy Bea announced that 2015 would be her 27th and final season as the Dodger Stadium organist, it was a no-brainer that Ruehle, who remains close friend with Nancy Bea and Bill Hefley to this day, would take her spot as the new Dodger Stadium organist. But with both the hockey and basketball seasons overlapping into baseball season, how in the world will he be able to do it all?
“The only time it might become a problem is during the playoffs but they’re all really good about that and understand that they playoffs take priority,” Ruehle said. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t a problem with the Kings or Lakers this year but hopefully I’ll get to do the playoffs for the Dodgers this season.”
One of, if not the most remarkable things about Dieter Ruehle is that although he never studied music above the junior college level, he knows and can play – at a moment’s notice – one of over 500 songs that he has memorized in his head. Oh sure, he uses an iPad to help him identify his vast musical library, but he does not need sheet music or even handwritten notes when it comes to actually putting fingers to keys.
“I have a list on my iPad and over the years I’ve learned a lot of songs,” said Ruehle. “Once I got the iPad I tried to type them all in, so I’ll just kind of scroll through them and pick out the ones I want to use on any given day. I haven’t counted them but I think there’s more that I know that aren’t on my iPad.”
Like I said, remarkable.
Like most people today – including many major league baseball players – Ruehle is quite active on social media, especially Twitter.
“It’s pretty cool, it’s a great way to interact with those who follow me,” Ruehle said. “It also allows me to keep tabs on what other organists are doing through a Twitter site called @OrganistAlert. It’s a lot of fun.”
In addition to between-inning entertainment, Ruehle has to pay very close attention to what’s happening down on the field. Those brief renditions of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony after each Dodgers pitcher records a strikeout are not recorded, that’s Dieter Ruehle playing it live. Additionally, it is Ruehle’s incredible music library (again, in his head) that allows him to come up with spontaneous and clever musical clips during mound visits, pitching changes and other on-field breaks in the action that not only bring a smile to those paying close attention to such things but also generates a lot of Twitter activity during the games.
During the recent series with the Baltimore Orioles, O’s manager Buck Showalter challenged a play that favored the Dodgers, to which Ruehle immediately began playing ‘Let it Be’ by Paul McCartney. He also played the Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ when Dodgers left-hander Alex Wood was walking back to the dugout after having been removed from the game by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
Speaking of that recent Dodgers-Orioles series, it concluded with a 14-inning marathon that lasted five hours and 26 minutes. As such, it provided Ruehle with his first-ever 14th-inning stretch and you know what that means.
“Playing ‘Take me Out to the Ball Game’ twice in one game is one of my personal highlights so far this season,” Ruehle said. “Playing it a second time that day was so much fun for me because it was so out of the ordinary, a rare moment. And even though the game didn’t end the way we all wanted it to, I was so happy to be a part of that rare moment.”
In addition to that recent 14-inning affair, Ruehle said that there was another recent game that ranks very high on his list of most memorable games in his first season behind the Dodger Stadium keyboard.
“At the end of the last homestand, the one before this one against the Washington Nationals, the Little League inside-the-park walk-off home run by Yasiel Puig was amazing,” Ruehle said. “We were down and I was thinking ‘We might not win the game’ and the next thing you know, a single turns into an inside-the-park home run. That was so exciting.”
Although the season is now officially half over, Ruehle has yet to go down onto the field before a game to meet the players and coaches but hopes to one day do so.
“I would really love to meet Dave Roberts, he just seems like a really great guy,” said Ruehle. “It’s also kind of ironic that this is his first year here and it’s my first year here, and his initials are D.R. and my initials are D.R. and I would really like to meet him.”
So the next time you are attending a game at Dodger Stadium keep an ear out for the guy playing the organ before the game and in between innings (and of course ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ during the seventh-inning or perhaps a rare 14th-inning stretch), because not only are you listening to an extremely talented musician, you’re listening to a guy who very well may be an even bigger Dodgers fan than your are.