The Wax Pack

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The Wax Pack

On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife

Brad Balukjian

264 pages
16 photographs

Hardcover

April 2020

978-1-4962-1874-2

$27.95 Pre-order

About the Book

Is there life after baseball? Starting from this simple question, The Wax Pack  ends up with something much bigger and unexpected—a meditation on the loss of innocence and the gift of impermanence, for both Brad Balukjian and the former ballplayers he tracked down. To get a truly random sample of players, Balukjian followed this wildly absurd but fun-as-hell premise: he took a single pack of baseball cards from 1986 (the first year he collected cards), opened it, chewed the nearly thirty-year-old gum inside, gagged, and then embarked on a quest to find all the players in the pack. Absurd, maybe, but true. He took this trip solo in the summer of 2015, spanning 11,341 miles through thirty states in forty-nine days.

Balukjian actively engaged with his subjects—taking a hitting lesson from Rance Mulliniks, watching kung fu movies with Garry Templeton, and going to the zoo with Don Carman. In the process of finding all the players but one, he discovered an astonishing range of experiences and untold stories in their post-baseball lives, and he realized that we all have more in common with ballplayers than we think. While crisscrossing the country, Balukjian retraced his own past, reconnecting with lost loves and coming to terms with his lifelong battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Alternately elegiac and uplifting, The Wax Pack is part baseball nostalgia, part road trip travelogue, and all heart, a reminder that greatness is not found in the stats on the backs of baseball cards but in the personal stories of the men on the front of them.

              
 

Author Bio

Brad Balukjian is director of the Natural History and Sustainability Program and teaches biology at Merritt College in Oakland, California. He is also a freelance writer and has published articles in Rolling Stone, the Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Slate, Discover, Smithsonian, Natural History, NOVA Next, and Islands.

Praise

“A wonderful journey that opens into an exploration of sports, nostalgia, American culture, and memory, The Wax Pack will surprise and engage you. It’s a delight to read and a tribute to the power of curiosity.”—Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief and The Library Book

“Poignant and powerful. . . . Balukjian covers more than ten thousand miles to track down the stories of fourteen men from a single pack of 1986 Topps baseball cards, learning a lot about their lives—and his own. Hop in the backseat and join him for the journey.”—Tyler Kepner, national baseball writer for the New York Times and best-selling author of K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches

“As pleasing as the pink slab of bubble gum that, long ago, came with baseball cards inside five cent packets, this slender volume gives fresh flavor to the familiar phrase ‘inside baseball.’”—George F. Will

“What if a pack of baseball cards could come to life? It sounds like a Spielberg movie plot, except it happened. It happened because Brad Balukjian made it happen, in real life, with the most eclectic cast of baseball characters ever assembled. And the result is one of the most fun, honest, funny, human, and uniquely creative baseball books of the year. I’ll admit it. I loved The Wax Pack!”—Jayson Stark, senior baseball writer for The Athletic 

“What a weird, quirky, fun read. There have been 50,000 books written on Major League Baseball, but Brad Balukjian’s The Wax Pack is a uniquely romantic love letter to a game, a time period, and its random soldiers. Well done.”—Jeff Pearlman, author of Football for a Buck

The Wax Pack is the perfect synthesis of what makes baseball (and baseball cards) compelling, combining the thrill of discovery, the reassurance of shared memory, and poignant metaphors for life. Balukjian’s cross-country, cardboard-based bildungsroman reminds us that baseball’s best stories are sometimes told by and about players who’ve long since left the league.”—Ben Lindbergh, bestselling author of The MVP Machine and The Only Rule Is It Has to Work

“Brad Balukjian’s book is for all those little kids with cardboard heroes who turned into big kids and started wondering, ‘Hey, what if there’s more to life than just the cardboard?’ Turns out, there is.”—Rob Neyer, author of Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game

“A journey of self-discovery by way of a pack of 1986 baseball cards. In Brad’s emotional quest, he not only finds answers but shares a snapshot of ballplayers who, like him, are trying to make it through life’s many twists and turns.”—Shane Rawley, former MLB pitcher

“Brad Balukjian’s The Wax Pack swiftly and joyfully unfolds like a baseball-loving version of Almost Famous. Bursting with life, laughter, and heartbreak, it’s an absolutely essential work of baseball literature; a rollicking page-turner; and a deep, rewarding search for wisdom.”—Josh Wilker, author of Cardboard Gods

“Every pack of baseball cards is like a birthday gift. It’s carefully wrapped, and, though what’s inside is a mystery, you know it’s going to be great. Same with The Wax Pack, the book. Until you open it, you have no idea how good the contents are. They’re good, very good. I’ve opened thousands and thousands of packs in my lifetime, but this is one of my favorites.”—Jeff Katz, author of Split Season 1981: Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball

“With The Wax Pack Brad Balukjian takes the simplest of ideas—opening an old pack of baseball cards—and twists it into knots, wringing every ounce of goodness from a familiar activity. With clarity of purpose and depth of prose he tells an endearing tale, deftly melding fan with player to provide a joyous, entertaining look at a sport he clearly loves.”—Jason Turbow, author of They Bled Blue and The Baseball Codes 

“Collecting baseball cards is something of a childhood rite of passage, and The Wax Pack is an awesome look into something many of us would never have dreamed of doing—chasing down our childhood heroes. . . . Brad tells their stories unlike anyone has ever done before—from the unique perspective of author and fan.”—Matt Boyd, MLB pitcher, Detroit Tigers

The Wax Pack is a fun read for card collectors, fans of ’80s baseball, or anyone who just wants to know what Rance Mulliniks is up to. I want to buy an old pack of cards and do what Brad Balukjian did!”—Eric Stangel, Emmy Award–winning writer and producer for the Late Show with David Letterman
 

Table of Contents

Author’s Note
Prologue
1. Warming Up
2. Happy Meals
3. Yeager Bombs
4. Camp Templeton
5. Houston, We Have a Problem
6. Ready Is Ready
7. Carman’s Cradle
8. The Battery
9. Chasing Carlton
10. Leader of the Pack
11. Vincent van Gone
12. Is It September Yet?
13. Nobody Home
14. Gone Fishing
15. Catching Carlton
16. Captain Comeback
17. Straight Outta Compton
Epilogue
Acknowledgments
Notes

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