Funny how some things get started. When Joel Beers was about 10 years old, his uncle gave him a tabletop baseball game, and one of the players’ cards was that of Rube Waddell.
“On the back, in the bio, it said he was one of the greatest and most colorful players in the game,” Beers said. “So I guess that seed was planted.”
Beers, 53, of Fullerton, a former Daily Pilot reporter and now the theater critic for OC Weekly, never forgot about Waddell and eventually wrote a play about him titled “Rube!” which was staged locally in 2003 and again in 2004.
This Friday, “Rube!” will be up to bat again, this time at the Curtis Theatre in Brea where it’s scheduled for a three-weekend engagement.
The play, which takes place in the first decade of the 20th century, focuses on the short but spectacular career of Waddell, a pitcher who played for the Philadelphia Athletics, and their equally legendary manager, Connie Mack.
“Rube posted amazing statistics and generated a plethora of outlandish stories during his blazing nine years in the big leagues,” Beers said. “But his unpredictability and oversized personality — along with possible mental illness and a drinking disorder — hastened an early departure from the game he loved ... Less than three years after his last major league game, he died penniless and alone.”
Beers has had a lifelong obsession with baseball, both its history and statistics.
His dream was to be the radio and television voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That’s initially why he studied journalism at Fullerton College (from 1985 to 1988).
“Who knew that Vin Scully would last so long?” Beers quipped.
Beers’ journalistic odyssey took him from the Riverside Press Enterprise to the Anaheim Bulletin before his tenure as a general assignment reporter and columnist for the Daily Pilot from 1992 to 1994.
That was when he started writing for the theater. He turned out eight full-length plays and a few one-acts from 1993 to 2005, all of which were produced in northern Orange County.
During that period, Beers developed his interest in Rube Waddell, whose exploits a century before still stirred the writer’s creative juices. The pitcher’s embrace of life — and equal rejection of most social mores — is the dominant theme, blending fact and fiction.
“It’s uncanny how so many of the issues that still confront America today either had their roots in or were dominant forces during the time of this play,” said Patrick Gwaltney, a veteran local actor and director who will stage “Rube!” for the third time.
The play, Beers explains, is “about stories, legacy and legends [behind] the freewheeling and tragic life and career of one of the strangest men ever to play baseball.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Rube! - A Story About Baseball, Highly Fictionalized”
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., from Sept. 13 to 29
Where: Curtis Theater, 1 Civic Center Circle in Brea
Cost: Ticket prices range from $22 to $30
Information: (714) 990-7722; curtistheatre.com