A lot of Michael Gruber’s sports dreams wound up coming true this season. Just not quite how he’d planned.
Gruber—or Grubes, as he’s known to fans and on Twitter—has been the DJ for the Dallas Stars since 2013, and this season, the team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final. Of course, all those games were played in Canada, where the NHL set up its playoff “bubble.” Forced to work remotely just like everybody else, Gruber made sure that Edmonton’s in-house DJ, Johnny Infamous, still gave fans watching in Texas a taste of home: Pantera’s “Puck Off” after every goal, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “The House Is Rockin’” after every win, Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia” for every power play, and certain other favorites.
But even if Gruber could have traveled to Alberta, he was busy with another dream gig. In this odd year, he joined the Texas Rangers game day crew. Instead of merely picking killer tunes, funny audio drops, and the odd musical troll, Gruber’s first time on the job required him to entertain a crowd that wasn’t there—and also simulate that crowd with sound effects.
Gruber, who started working in sports radio in high school, has DJed for Dallas sports radio stalwart KTCK “The Ticket,” the Mavericks, and baseball’s minor league Frisco RoughRiders. But this is “definitely the weirdest rookie season I can imagine,” he says.
Then came the World Series, and it all got weirder. Arlington became the Edmonton of baseball, hosting a portion of the National League playoffs as well as the World Series, which began on Tuesday (games three, four, and five are this weekend). Fans are even back in the stands, at 25 percent capacity. Of course, legendary Rangers PA announcer Chuck Morgan, who handled all the team’s music choices before bringing Grubes on board this year, is also in the booth—an additional pinch-me moment for Gruber. “Finding a way to work for the Rangers was always a dream of mine,” Gruber says. “Getting to do it, and especially getting to work with Chuck, has been just incredible and surreal. He’s been a part of things since before I was born. He was one of the first to really [choose] music tracks for player walk-ups, instead of either organ or nothing.” Gruber will represent the ‘home’ Los Angeles Dodgers (in games one and two and, if necessary, six and seven) and Tampa Bay Rays (in games 3 through 5) with help from staffers in those cities.
“It’s been kind of a fun thing, just trying to get in the mind of how each team works,” he says. “For the fans that are watching from home, we want it to feel like, ‘man, it sounds like the Dodger staff is working this game,’ or ‘the Rays staff has worked this game.’ We’re trying to respect that.”
But listen closely, and you might still hear some of the personality that Grubes brings under normal circumstances. To help, we asked him to share five of the greatest hits that he’s blasted through Stars and Rangers games, and now, the World Series.
Blink-182, “All the Small Things”
Along with Garth Brooks’s “Friends in Low Places,” this is the tune that gets Dallas Stars fans shout-singing along, even after action has resumed and Grubes has cut the music. When it got played in Edmonton, the tradition continued on Twitter.
“We were having a virtual sing-along,” Gruber says. “One person would tweet at me with the first line, and then someone else would tweet the next one. We literally got through the whole song.”
Power Trip, “Executioner’s Tax”
From Pantera to Power Trip, Texas hockey and Texas heavy metal simply go together, even if the Dallas thrash gods didn’t get to play the Winter Classic. Front man Riley Gale was also a year behind Gruber at Dallas Jesuit. “When he heard that I was taking over the music for the Stars, he was like, ‘Dude, make sure and take a listen to my band,’ and I was blown away,” Gruber says.
Gale died in August at age 34, turning Power Trip’s presence on the Stars’ Edmonton playlist into a memorial. “I wish it didn’t have to happen like that, but it was really amazing to see the response,” Gruber says. “He really was such a great dude. Getting to give him a tribute during the freaking Stanley Cup final is hopefully something that he’d be smiling about if he was here.”
Old 97’s, “Timebomb”
Old 97’s have been played at Dallas Stars games for almost as long as there has been a Dallas Stars, going back to the team’s original DJ, Ty Wubker. They’ve also played at a Stars game, during the 2007 playoffs. Front man Rhett Miller, though now living in upstate New York, can frequently be seen in Stars or Rangers gear, while the band’s new album Twelfth, has a certain legendary Dallas Cowboys number twelve on the cover.
“Timebomb is definitely one that I’ve used quite a bit at Stars games,” Gruber says. “I’ll play it occasionally at Rangers games, and Chuck did too. But y’know, I’ve also been loving “Bottle Rocket Baby,” off the new album. I played that a few times at Rangers games. Obviously with no fans, but that’s definitely going to be a staple for years to come.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Can’t Stop”
Grubes is a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan. A big fan. So big he’s the guitarist in a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band. Thus, “Can’t Stop” was the song played at Globe Life Field for lineup introductions during every game this past season.
“I suggested a couple other songs,” says Gruber. “But the crew, I think, knew that the Chili Peppers are my favorite band. And so they kind of indulged me, and made sure that their video for the lineups synced with the track. That was really cool of them.”
Explosions in the Sky, “Your Hand in Mine”
Gruber pulled out the sports and soundtrack classic—and the handkerchiefs—for game one of the World Series, which began with a tribute to first responders (narrated by Morgan), followed by two COVID-19 nurses throwing the ceremonial first pitch.
“I couldn’t resist using it,” he says. “Any song that’s trying to be inspirational, or uplifting and epic, ‘Your Hand in Mine’ is the song that it’s trying to be. So why not use that song? When that moment came along, it was just too good a choice.”
This story has been updated to reflect that Michael Gruber is one of multiple Rangers employees assisting at the World Series, including legendary announcer Chuck Morgan.