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How Dodgers’ Organist Uses His Musical Talent to Subtly Throw Shade to Visiting Teams, Plus Where to Find His Favorite Tacos in L.A.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs Miami Marlins at Dodger Stadium Thursday May 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Jon SooHoo/ ©Los Angeles Dodgers,LLC 2017

[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]ho’s the only person to play for both the Dodgers and Kings? It’s Dieter Ruehle, the organist for both teams. Ruehle’s been with the Kings since 1989 and is entering his 25th season (he took a six-year break in the 90s) and has been the Dodgers’ full-time organist since 2016. His impressive repertoire of everything from Oklahoma to Selena to Nipsy Hussle has made him a favorite of L.A. sports fans. We caught up with Ruehle to talk about what it’s like to live your childhood dream, his most memorable stadium moments and of course, his favorite taco.

L.A. Taco: Right off the bat, so to speak, what’s your favorite taco in Los Angeles? 

Dieter Ruehle: My favorite taco in L.A. is at Los Burritos. I think there’s a few of them around, there’s one in North Hollywood and I love their potato tacos. It’s just lettuce, tomato, cheese and potatoes. It’s a hard shell that I think they make there.

You’re originally from the San Fernando Valley, were you a big L.A. sports fan growing up?

Yup, it was always Dodgers and Kings, so it’s a dream that I’m working for them now. One was summer, one was winter. Growing up In North Hollywood as kids, we’d play baseball with a tennis ball and street hockey with a tennis ball. 

“It’s true. Also, with the organ, it can be more subtle.”

What did you use as a stick?

We used actual hockey sticks.

How’d you get started as an organist? Did you play the organ or piano growing up?

I took classical piano lessons growing up and I was just interested at a young age in the organ at sporting events. I’d hear the organ and I think it stood out more to me than to other kids.

How’d you get started professionally?

I got a taste of it when I was 12. KABC 7 had a feature called Sports Fantasy and I wrote them a letter asking to play the organ at a Kings game. They made that happen, I got a taste of it and I was hooked. I would write letters every summer to the Forum asking if there were any openings. When I was 15, there was an opening with the L.A. Lazers indoor soccer team, so they hired me for that. When I was 20, there was an opening with the Kings and fast forward to when Staples Center was built, I was hired by the Lakers, the Avengers (they were the Arena Football team), the Sparks and the Clippers. So, at one point I worked for all five teams at Staples. The Dodgers had reached out to me prior to the 2013 season knowing that their organist Nancy Bea Hefley was going to miss some games that season and they asked if I could fill in. I filled in for her on and off during the 2013 through 2015 seasons and when she retired, the Dodgers asked me if I was interested in doing all the games.

Where else have you played?

I’ve done six Olympics, and NBA events around the world including six All-Star Games. It was a thrill to play the 2010 Vancouver Olympics gold medal hockey game between the United States and Canada. I’ve done NBA Finals, Stanley Cup finals and World Series, so I’ve seen a lot of pretty exciting competition.

What was it like taking over for Nancy Bea Hefley?

Definitely big shoes to fill. I think my first season, I kind of held back and wasn’t quite me. In my second year, I felt more comfortable to be me and just feel real good. 

During the first season did you stick with more traditional musical theater staples like Nancy would play and then got more diverse during the second season? 

Couldn’t have said it better myself, yeah.

What’s in your kit at Dodger Stadium?

I play a Roland Atelier AT-80s organ and I use an Instant Replay, it’s a hard disc audio playback system because, in addition to the organ, I play some of the in-game pre-recorded music as well. I work with the DJ at Dodger Stadium, he handles the batters’ walk-up songs and between innings stuff like the kiss cam, but if it’s happening in the game I’m the person who runs that. For example, if there’s a double play, I can play “It Takes Two” by Rob Base. I also do the beats like “boom boom clap” and those kinds of things.  

How do you react in real-time during a game? How do you know when to throw in a song, a sound, what to play? 

I think when we’re on defense, if say Cody Bellinger makes a routine catch, I might play something on the organ-like “Hell’s Bells” or “Saved By The Bell.” If he makes a diving catch, I might play the recorded sound of “Unbelievable” by EMF or “OMG” by Usher.

“After the Muncy-Bumgarner water incident, I knew I had to think of something. I had a few song ideas and some fans sent requests on Twitter...”

You get to provide commentary. 

It’s true. Also, with the organ, it can be more subtle. Recently, I played the theme to Hawaii 5-O when the Dodgers took a 5-0 lead. We recently played the Rockies and at one point we had a huge lead, so we had a bonanza of runs, so I thought I should play the theme from Bonanza, the old TV western. Here’s one more, say a Dodger game hits the three-hour mark, I might play the theme from Gilligan’s Island on the organ.

A three-hour tour?

Exactly. If you play the original recording, it’s right out there. The lyrics are “a three-hour tour,” but if you play it on the organ it’s subtler and not in your face.

Los Angeles Dodgers vs Miami Marlins at Dodger Stadium Thursday May 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Jon SooHoo/ ©Los Angeles Dodgers,LLC 2017
Los Angeles Dodgers vs Miami Marlins at Dodger Stadium Thursday May 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Jon SooHoo/ ©Los Angeles Dodgers,LLC 2017

You went viral this summer for teasing of Madison Bumgarner, which was inspired by the “get it out of the ocean” incident, but what led you to decide which oceanic themed songs to play?

Prior to every homestand, I’ll put together a playlist based on who’s coming to town and what songs could work. After the Muncy-Bumgarner water incident, I knew I had to think of something. I had a few song ideas and some fans sent requests on Twitter, so between that and my own thoughts the rest was history.

What does a typical workday for you look like at either stadium?

Games at Dodger Stadium start at 7:10 PM and I typically get there around 3. I really start around 5 or 5:30 when the anthem singer shows up to rehearse. Before that I uncover all the gear, warm-up, and then I prep my script. We get a rundown from our producer that lists what’s happening at each inning break, like the kiss cam which DJ Severe does or the military hero, which I take. Then I’ll finish my playlist, the singer will arrive, we’ll rehearse and then I do a pre-game organ set about an hour around 6ish. Staples is pretty similar, but the games there start around 7:30 PM.

“I feel fortunate doing what I love. Any fatigue is good. Sometimes people complain about the length of baseball games, but maybe I’m a weirdo, I love that there’s no clock. Don’t get me wrong, they can be tiring, but I can find sleep some other time.”

How do you juggle the two teams? What happens if they’re both playing on the same day?

Sometimes there’s overlap. This spring there was a conflict with a Kings game and a Dodgers game, it was late-season for the Kings and the second game for the Dodgers and I had to miss the Dodgers game. It’ll be reversed in a few weeks when the Dodgers will have some home playoff games and there could be a few conflicts where’ll I’ll have a sub at the Kings game.

Do playoffs trump regular season?

Yes.

Have you ever had a double-header where you played both venues on the same day?

Yes! I believe it was last April, the Kings made the playoffs and the Dodgers had a 1:00 PM game, so I did the Dodgers game first and then hurried over to Staples to do the Kings game. In my four years with the Dodgers, it’s happened a few times, but not a lot.

How were you feeling after that? 

I was tired, but it was a good tired. I feel fortunate doing what I love. Any fatigue is good. Sometimes people complain about the length of baseball games, but maybe I’m a weirdo, I love that there’s no clock. Don’t get me wrong, they can be tiring, but I can find sleep some other time. 

Like when Game 3 of the World Series last year went to 1 AM?

Exactly, that was so special because how often are you at an event like that. It’s unscripted and you’re just at the mercy of what happens on the field. That game just went 7 hours and 20 minutes and ended close to 1 AM. You’re part of history and you can’t buy that stuff. It’s so awesome to me.

Do the players ever have requests?

Their requests typically go to DJ Severe because he’ll play their walk-up tracks. I did speak to Justin Turner a couple of years ago who told me he enjoyed when a ball was hit to Kiké Hernández and I’d play “Despacito,” which was his walk-up music at the time. It was nice hearing that they could hear what I’m playing. Recently Justin Turner did send me a request. It was when rookie pitcher Tony Gonsolin was playing. He’s known as “the Cat Man” because he loves cats. I think he wore a cat t-shirt to spring training. So, Turner says can you please play the “Meow Meow Meow Meow” commercial after a strike-out. People noticed.

What’s one of your favorite moments as an organist.

Again, World Series game 3 last year. Going 18 innings meant we had two seventh inning stretches, the normal one and a 14th inning stretch, which was a blast. Just to do that is fun, but to do it in the World Series? I remember when the 14th inning stretch was introduced by our PA announcer Todd Leitz, the crowd’s roar was like a happy surprise roar, like “Oh yeah, we get to do this again.” That was a highlight for me.

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