Get FREE tickets to the 10/21 Travel Show - use code TSFWP at checkout

Before traveling the world, Dodgers took this young organist out to the ballgame

It was the summer of 1972, and the Dodgers had just suffered a tough loss when the new Dodger Stadium organist broke into … Vincent Youman’s celebratory “Hallelujah”?

“I was like, ‘Oops, oh well,’’’ Donna Parker recalled with a laugh.

Later that same season, after the Dodgers suffered another tough loss, the new Dodger Stadium organist began to weep.

“What can I say? I was a teenage girl,’’ Parker said.

Amid this new Dodgers era of stars appearing out of nowhere — Charlie Culberson, Chris Taylor, Josh Fields — let us pause to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Los Angeles franchise’s greatest flash in the pan … er … pipes.

For three months in 1972, the Dodger Stadium organist was a child prodigy who wore a kooky uniform, played catch with players and once brought Vin Scully out of his booth in amazement.

Donna Parker, a 15-year-old sophomore at Baldwin Park High, spent one wondrous summer vacation energizing fans with “Charge’’ and “You Gotta Have Heart’’ before departing as abruptly as she arrived.

Parker left the team late in the summer to go on a national tour and never again played the organ at a baseball game. Her presence in Chavez Ravine was so brief it is only vaguely remembered even by people who were there. Yet the oddity was so great, it has become the most repeated line on her resume.

Parker has achieved acclaim as a concert organist in both the classical and theater organ fields, performing from Australia to Austria while recording nearly 30 albums. Yet her fans repeatedly barrage her with a single question.

“You can do all these things in your life — perform, publish, teach — and the first thing people always say is, ‘Awww, you really played for the Dodgers?’’’ she said.

It’s hard to believe even now, and seems more unreal when one views photos of her sitting at the organ in her outlandish 1970s-style uniform, complete with white knee boots, pleated skirt and funky cap.

“Oh boy, what a costume,’’ she said.

She still has two of the uniforms stored in her Portland, Ore.-area home. She still has the sheet music for a Peter O’Malley request called, “Wonderful Copenhagen,’’ from the 1952 film, “Hans Christian Andersen.” And she still has a memory of a certain Dodger jokingly — she thinks — offering her his phone number and requesting that she call when she turned 18.

“In Dodger history, there are pockets of people known for one moment, and Donna Parker is one of them,’’ said Dodger historian Mark Langill. “She is like Dick Nen, Steve Finley, Charlie Culberson. If you blink, you missed it.’’

Langill said Parker also falls into the delightfully deep category of Dodger amazing-but-trues.

“You look back in history,” he said, “and you ask, did the Dodgers really wear satin uniforms in 1944? Did they really forget to bring the flag when Ebbets Field opened in 1913? And did they really once give the organist job to a teenager?”

Parker was discovered and contracted by the Conn organ company, which had been following the child star since she began giving organ recitals at age 13. When Conn installed a giant new organ in Dodger Stadium in 1972, it was allowed to approve the musician, and company management thought the bubbly teen was a perfect fit.

“Today everyone asks her, ‘How in the heck did you get that?’’’ recalled Jonas Nordwall, a childhood friend and fellow organist. “But she had the looks, she had the talent, the media was interested in her, and it created a lot of enthusiasm.’’

Parker was the fourth organist in Dodger franchise history, but the first who would wave to classmates in the stands, fend off teenage boys outside the press box and require permission from her school principal to work weekday afternoon games.

She was the first Dodger organist chauffered to every game — usually by her mother Margaret, because she wasn’t old enough to drive. She was also the first organist to have a chaperone for every game — once again, usually her mother, who sat in the stands outside the press box.

“I’d pick her up at school, we’d go to the games, I’d wait around, then I’d take her home afterward, that was my entire job,” Margaret said. “She handled everything else.’’

The Dodgers gave Parker a basic script, but she could improvise, and often did, using baseball knowledge gleaned from her days in youth softball and from her father, who taught her to be a Dodgers fan. She played for 30 minutes before each game, then the national anthem, then whenever the action warranted.

“To this day,” said Parker, now 60, “it seems kind of crazy that they would give that much responsibility to a 15-year-old.’’

Wearing that strange uniform, she would prepare for each game by going down to the field and asking the players for favorite songs. Eventually, the players handed her a glove and would play catch with her while discussing music.

Steve Garvey taught her to love the rock group Chicago. Wes Parker (no relation) espoused the beauties of Beethoven. And Jim Brewer taught her how to throw a screwball.

“She was a sweet little girl, the kind you want to wrap in your arms and protect,’’ remembered Wes Parker. “She was so innocent, bubbly, trusting.’’

She actually once serenaded the first baseman with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” He waved to her from the field. But hoping for more energetic tunes, her bosses weren’t so thrilled. She ditched the song, yet still managed to accompany Parker’s heroics with snippets from “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

“The entire organization was so kind, everyone took me under their wing,’’ Parker said. “The whole thing was like a dream.’’

On her first night, that dream became a reality when Scully bounded out of his booth between innings, hustled over to her, and said, “Young lady, I’m going to tell you something: Nobody has ever made me stop when I’m announcing. That the most fantastic music I ever heard.’’

When Parker left the team to fulfill her Conn contract by touring, she was replaced by Helen Dell, who performed at Dodger Stadium for the next 16 years.

Parker spent the rest of her high school years playing at various events in the Sports Arena, including tennis and hockey, but could never replicate the buzz she felt when thousands of strangers were standing and stomping in Chavez Ravine to the music made by a schoolgirl giving the most fun recitals ever.

“What happened during that short time, all this time later, it just never goes away,’’ she said.

It literally never goes away for a musician who now spends her days playing everything from Bach’s “Fugue a La Gigue” to Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”

A couple of years ago, Donna Parker was making her elegant keyboard magic at a wedding when, afterward, the newlyweds had a special request.

“I’m like ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake,’’’ she recalled. “But, yeah, I played, ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’’’

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Get more of Bill Plaschke's work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke

Copyright © 2017, CT Now
71°