Baseball, Sports

Professional organist plays at Dirtbags games for the first season at Blair Field

Dieter Ruehle first played the organ at a sporting event when he was 12 years old. He was selected from a local TV station’s “Sports Fantasy” segment to play for the Los Angeles Kings during their first period.

It was there that he fell in love with performing at professional sporting events.

“After I did that [performance], I was hooked on playing the organ at any kind of game,” Ruehle said. “It was like such a great feeling. So I started writing letters every year to teams to play for them.”

Since then, Ruehle found himself playing the organ during live sporting events for many different teams on the west coast like the Los Angeles Kings, Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Lakers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers where he currently plays full-time.

While playing the organ, he also learned how to DJ. And from playing both, he got the opportunity to travel to other places.

In 1983, Ruehle got his first gig when he was 15. He played for the previously known indoor soccer team the Los Angeles Lazers until the team folded five years later. From there, the Los Angeles Kings hired him in 1989 to play for their hockey games.

Between 1992 and 1996, Rhuele found himself out of the Los Angeles area where he played for the Coyotes and Sharks during this period. In 1997 he returned to LA to play for the Kings again.

He also played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 2001 to 2016. While playing for them, he met late basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who he formed a great working relationship with.

Ruehle said he met Bryant on a plane ride to China for the NBA games in 2013.

“He was really cool and down to earth,” Ruehle said. “He was just a super cool guy.”

A few years later in 2018, Bryant reached out to Ruehle to work with him for his podcast “The Punies.” Ruehle said Bryant was the same, dedicated person on and off the court.

“He was known for being a really great and dedicated player, and I could say the same off the court in his video production,” Ruehle said. “He just wanted to do things in the best possible way.”

Ruehle had worked with Bryant for both seasons one and two of the podcast. He was set to work with him for the third season in the spring of 2020 but unfortunately, never got the chance to.

“[Bryant] told me ‘See you next season for season three’ but then it never happened because of the accident,” Ruehle said. “It was so sad. But I was fortunate to have those memories with him.”

In 2013, Ruehle filled in for the Los Angeles Dodgers organist Nancy Bea Hefley. When she retired in 2016, he replaced her and has been with them full-time ever since.

“It’s a pretty awesome job, it’s got me around the world,” Ruehle said. “I’ve gotten to do a lot of events like the Olympics in China where they wanted both [to DJ and play the organ].”

The organ is an old-fashioned instrument used in sporting events for many years. But as time has evolved, many professional teams have gotten rid of their organists and replaced them with newer technology for fan engagement.

Growing up as a Dodger fan, Ruehle believes the organ is part of the old-fashioned game that keeps fans engaged.

“It’s a live accompaniment to a live game. It’s like creating the soundtrack to the movie, but it’s not a pre-scripted movie,” Ruehle said. “Sure, there’s technology where we can hit organ recordings, but it’s always going to be exactly the same. It doesn’t have a live feel, it just becomes redundant.”

Last summer in August 2021, Ruehle had been playing at a Dodgers game when LBSU athletic director, Andy Fee, had attended his first baseball game after the pandemic.

“I heard the organ playing and remembered thinking, ‘this is baseball,’” Fee said. “I missed [the environment]. I just sat there and thought, ‘why don’t we have that?’”

Fee reached out to Ruehle on social media to see how he could find an organist to play at Dirtbags games. The next day, they talked about the idea and Ruehle suggested what kind of organ to purchase, which the Dirtbags sponsor later paid for.

When Fee asked Ruehle if he knew of any organists willing to play for a college team, Ruehle gladly agreed to the new role.

“He’s really just done something very different and meaningful,” Fee said. “I would encourage everyone to go out and experience what it is to have an organ at a baseball game. It really is what baseball is all about.”

Although the Dirtbags have been playing at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field since 1993, this is the first season they have had an organ at their stadium.

“I love it, I love it,” Ruehle said about playing at Blair Field. “The stadium has a real old-fashioned feel. It’s old and yet, it still feels professional the way the stadium was built with the awning over it. It’s kind of like an iconic feel being in the press box and working with the crew.”

Dirtbags head coach, Eric Valenzuela, shared that having Ruehle at the games has been a complete joy to the team.

“I’m just blessed to be a part of this program and work with an administration that really supports our baseball program and gives us resources like Dieter to make it a great experience for fans and for our program,” Valenzuela said.

With the MLB season starting back up, Ruehle plans to play at Dirtbags games when he is able to. When he plays at Dodger games, Jeff Liffmann, another professional organist, will fill in for him at Dirtbags games. He hopes to help the fans enjoy their experience at the games.

“I think it’s like the man behind the curtain,” Ruehle said. “People come to see the game, but hopefully it just adds a little something that maybe you didn’t really think twice about but you kind of feel it.”

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