He sees the base hits on the baseball field. He watches the bone-crunching hits at the hockey rink. At both venues, he plays the hits while entertaining the masses.
Meet Dieter Ruehle. You probably don’t know him, but his name should be music to your ears.
The organist for Dodgers games at Dodger Stadium and Kings games at Crypto.com Arena, the musical talents of Ruehle have helped make him a creative force — and institution for his unique longevity — at big-time pro sports events.
“I loved it from the beginning,” he said when asked if music/performing was something he took to right away. “I took to classical piano lessons really well and felt comfortable playing at games.”
He also took to his eventual chosen profession at a very young age. So young in fact he could not even drive himself to work (mom drove him).
“I started doing LA Lazers indoor soccer and LA Clippers basketball in 1984 when I was 15 years old. The Clippers changed over to organ recordings after a couple of years, but I remained with the Lazers until the team folded in 1989. The Los Angeles Kings hired me in the summer of ‘89.”
As Wayne Gretzky was helping create new hockey fans in Southern California, Ruehle was providing his own form of assists from the upper reaches of the Forum.
Initially, Ruehle served only as the organist — the only music heard at Kings games was live organ during pregame, in-game and intermissions. In his second year, the team introduced recorded music to its in-game presentation.
“I was the person playing both organ and cassette tapes. Things were beginning to change. The Forum finally got its first center-hung videoboards in 1991, which was my third year with the Kings,” the San Fernando Valley native said.
The addition of video boards created more fan presentation elements like dance cam and kiss cam.
“I needed to adapt,” Ruehle admitted. “As the years went on, recorded music playback went from cassettes to CDs to laptops to DJ’ing. As our in-game shows grew bigger, I still handled all of the live and recorded music until the Kings hired our first in-game DJ back in 2014.
“Music playback is now a two-person show, but I still handle most of our in-game music playback and pregame intros while the DJ handles warmups, media timeouts and intermissions.”
Ruehle’s path to his gig was unlikely. It started when he caught a segment during a local newscast.
“Even when I was working in Inglewood at 15, what I think truly gave me my start was playing the organ at a Kings game the day after I turned 12 years old. KABC-TV Channel 7 had a story during their local newscasts called Sports Fantasy. It was my sports fantasy to play the organ at a game. It came true on Nov. 19, 1980.”
He was immediately hooked.
“I wrote letters to the teams at The Forum every summer. The Lazers of the Major Indoor Soccer League hired me in 1984, the Kings in 1989 and then the Lakers in 2001. … As they say, the rest is history.”
Ruehle’s workload extends well beyond the nine innings of a baseball game (he started with the Dodgers in 2016 after the legendary Nancy Bea Hefley retired), the three periods of a hockey game and/or the four quarters of a basketball game. In short, he just doesn’t show up to the venue before first pitch and crack his knuckles.
“The amount of practicing and preparing I do at home and the in-arena and in-stadium rehearsals that happen hours before game time are immense,” Ruehle said.
Ruehle has to be extremely attentive. Baseball can be a slow-paced sport. Ruehle also has to be ready to roll with the punches.
“It’s challenging when the home team isn’t playing well, losing by a large amount. It zaps the energy out of the fans. I’m basically playing a live soundtrack to games by reacting to what happens during games.
“At Dodgers games, I’m focused on every pitch. People sometimes think baseball is a slow game, but let me tell you from where I sit, plays can happen quickly. As do many situations. I’ve got to be ready.”
It’s the little things.
“When the Dodgers are hitting and the count goes to three balls, one strike, one out, I usually play a song by the band 311 because the scoreboard literally says ‘311.’ In another situation, sometimes I’ll play the theme to ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ when there’s a ball hit that barely goes foul. The neat thing about playing live is that I can transition from a song into a fan prompt — think Let’s Go Dodgers, Charge! etc. — when I can tell play is close to resuming.”
Ruehle’s workload has extended past Los Angeles. He worked the 2017 and 2018 World Series contests. He worked the Gold Medal men’s hockey game at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. He worked six Olympics and several NBA and NHL events in Europe and China.
Sean Tabler worked in Game Entertainment for the Chargers at SoFi Stadium before recently joining the Kings.
“We rely on his expertise to ensure music is timely, situational and sustains fan energy,” Tabler said. “Dieter provides a wealth of knowledge and decades of experience in live sporting events. He also continually brings in new ideas that keep our sound fresh. It’s an honor to work with one of the best in the business.”
From behind his organ, Ruehle has witnessed some of the greatest moments in LA sports history.
“It was thrilling to feel the energy in person at both Stanley Cup wins in 2012 and 2014 and Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics,” said Ruehle, who also triggers the goal horn at Kings games. “There was definitely extra stress with all of those games … but also a great reward.”