Review: The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife

The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife
Brad Balukjian
University of Nebraska Press

Have you ever looked back at your old baseball cards and wondered what happened to some of the players? Brad Balukjian bought a pack of 1986 Topps and tracked down the 14 players in the pack to interview.

Balukjian’s cross country journey introduces you to some players you might remember and some that you probably never heard of. He goes into their youth, playing careers, and what they are up to now. There is also interviews with those that know the players, like family members and old coaches.

One of the things that sets this book apart from most baseball books is the author is just as much a character in the book as the players he interviews. The journey shows you his growth as a person and how he copes with his own issues; Balukjian shows his vulnerabilities, and embraces them.

Vulnerabilities are a constant theme in the book. You learn about the struggles of the former players, from leaving the game, to substance abuse, to the struggles of family. There are as many heartaches for the players as there are triumphs.

To bookend the journey, Balukjian opens the book inside the old Topps factory where the cards were made and ends it talking with some of those workers now that the factory is closed. It was a nice touch to humanize the card industry.

There were a few players that Balukjian misses out on, and those are disappointing. Especially with a former Yankees pitcher that’s had plenty of problems in the past.

The other disappointment in the book was some of the interviews were shorter than I would have liked. Many of the interactions with Balukjian and the players were exceptional but left me wanting to know more about their lives during and after the game. The players were very candid and Balukjian seemed to form honest connections with them.

This is a very honest, heart-felt reading experience and I wish Balukjian would grab another pack for a sequel. I highly recommend this book for baseball fans, especially those who collected the 1986 Topps cards.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Check out the website for the book.

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