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Dodgers

Column: Ballpark music is what helps Dieter Ruehle get through coronavirus shutdown

Dieter Ruehle is the organist for the Dodgers and the Kings.
Dieter Ruehle is the organist for the Dodgers and the Kings.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Even in these most somber of times, Dieter Ruehle will not quarantine the sounds of summer.

Every day in his Burbank apartment, the Dodgers organist sits down at his keyboard and remembers.

Some days he plays “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” for a crowd of one, his partner Natalie Zeyala.

Other days he plays, “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame” for anyone who may be strolling outside on the sidewalk.

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Still other days he plays, “Let’s Go Dodgers” ... just for himself.

“I miss it, I miss it real bad,” Ruehle said. “Playing the ballpark music helps me get through it.”

By all means, play on.

There are many things I miss about the pandemic-suspended baseball season, but mostly miss the sounds. It’s the only sport where you can actually hear a game being played, from the crack of the bat to the thump of the glove to the sweeping roar or deep sighs of the crowd.

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I miss baseball’s noise. It is an inextricable part of the action. Sometimes it is the action.

I miss the “Moo-kie” chants that would have greeted Betts at Chavez Ravine, and the boos that would have greeted the Houston Astros in Anaheim.

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I miss the recordings of “We Are Young” when Clayton Kershaw takes the mound, “Hotel California” when Cody Bellinger comes to the plate, and “California Love” when Kenley Jansen walks out of the bullpen. It’s the only sport where every player has his own song that accompanies his every entrance, and I dearly love it that last season Will Smith batted to the theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

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I miss Keith Williams Jr. singing the national anthem before big games, and Randy Newman singing “I Love L.A.” after every win, and, in the middle of the seventh, thousands swaying and singing and taking themselves out to the ballgame.

I miss all these noises, none being more joyful than the ones created by the organist with the long hair and a soft smile.

Filling the giant pedal imprints of longtime legendary Dodger organists Nancy Bea Hefley and Helen Dell, Ruehle, 51, has spent the last four years brilliantly filling Chavez Ravine with music both inspirational and witty.

“The organ and baseball just go together,” he said. “You hear the crowd’s emotions and you play off it.”

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He’s the one who begins each homestand with the theme from “Welcome Back, Kotter” and ends each night with, “Closing Time” or “Oh, What A Night.”

Fantasy baseball players had their lawsuit against the Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox and Major League Baseball thrown out of U.S. District Court.

When Max Muncy makes a good play, he plays, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” For each of Walker Buehler’s big moments, he plays, “Oh Yeah” from the movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

He doesn’t try to make fans think and smile and say, “Oh, I get it …” But that’s what happens, and it’s a blast to play along.

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“That happens unintentionally,” he said. “I’ll just play something I think fits a certain player or situation.”

For close plays, it’s the theme from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” For home runs, it’s “Seven Nation Army.” And every strikeout is rewarded with a live version of the first bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

During some long, drawn-out games, he’ll even play the theme from “Gilligan’s Island.” You figure it out.

“Dodger Stadium is such a happy place,” he said. “I love the crowd, I love the singing, it still gives me chills.”

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Ruehle, who also is employed to play for the Kings, is getting chills of a different sort these days. While the Kings are paying him for the games he missed because their season was “paused” — six total — the Dodgers have not yet done the same. Every major-league team has pledged $1 million to an assistance fund for their workers, but the Dodgers have not made a decision regarding the disbursement of that fund.

Among the challenges during the COVID-19 crisis is staying fit. Dodgers athletic trainer Brandon McDaniel is offering help by streaming workouts twice a week.

He was scheduled to receive his season’s first check Friday for two exhibition games and three regular-season games, but received nothing. As with many others, he’s anxiously waiting for the Dodgers to take some sort of action, especially since the Dodgers and Kings provide his sole source of income.

“Obviously, with no games being played, we’re not being paid, and that’s definitely making things challenging,” he said.

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When contacted Friday, the Dodgers issued the following statement.

“The Dodgers have pledged $1 million towards an assistance fund for our workers during this challenging time,” it read. “Like most of the other teams, we are working to find a way to distribute the funds in a manner that will be most beneficial for the recipients and hope to come to some conclusions soon.”

There is another tune that Dieter Ruehle sometimes plays these days to cheer himself up. It’s the theme to the “Charge” chant. Sometimes he’ll even do a little fist pump after he finishes, charging into the unknown with unbowed faith, a symphony of hope, and music to our ears.


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