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A Los Angeles Times Best Seller
A 2020 NPR Best Book of the Year
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.
On Balukjian’s trip in the summer of 2015, he spanned 11,341 miles through thirty states in forty-eight days. Actively engaging with his subjects, he took a hitting lesson from Rance Mulliniks, watched kung fu movies with Garry Templeton, and went 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. 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.
About the Author
Brad Balukjian is an entomologist and is faculty in the Natural History and Sustainability Program at Merritt College. He is also a freelance writer who has published in Rolling Stone, Slate, National Geographic, and other publications. He lives in Oakland, California, with his VCR.
“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
“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
“The Wax Pack is one of the most interesting and pleasing baseball-themed books I have read in quite some time. An original idea, brought to fruition with graceful prose, a sense of humor, empathy, and insight.”—Bob Costas
"Baseball cards were a wonderful and memorable part of my childhood. Balukjian brought a random pack of cards to life. Such a unique way to tell a fascinating story."—Tim Kurkjian
“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 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, best-selling 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