In the great scheme of things, one concession I have had to make during the pandemic seems especially insignificant except for the fact that it dovetails into my mental makeup heading into “The Wax Pack” by Brad Balukjian. One of the great pleasures in my life is heading downtown to The Card Cellar, buying a soda from the cooler and then playing an arcade game for a little while. Before heading back to work, I usually peruse the array of baseball cards and buy a few packs for old times sake. It’s a nostalgic trip back to circa 1982—a reminder of a simpler time, when the highlight of many days was buying a pack of baseball cards and chewing a stick of stale, pink gum on the steps of the local candy shop with your childhood friends.
Balukjian, though roughly a decade younger than I, felt the same twinges of nostalgia while sitting in the upper deck at an Oakland A’s baseball game a few years ago. The part-time professor hatched a plan to buy a pack of unopened 1986 Topps baseball cards and travel cross country to track down the 15 players in the pack to see what they were up to after many years in retirement. In short, Balukjian, was able to chase a dream and meet a handful of boyhood idols, but he also found some of the “Wax Packers” (as he called them) less than accommodating and hounded by demons beyond the ballfield.
The author readily admits that when he was growing up as a Philadelphia Phillies fan, he pulled for the unknown pitchers and middle infielders—the players who generally rounded out the roster and not the ones who garnered the headlines. Accordingly, his favorite player was Phillies’ pitcher Don Carman, who had a career win–loss record of 53–54. (Two things of note here—Carman was a relief pitcher for the Reading Phillies while I was a part-time bat boy for the minor league team and Balukjian should have run out and bought a lottery ticket on the day he opened that random pack of cards because his favorite player of all-time happened to be in that random pack.) Along with a couple of middle infielders, the wax pack does contain a few big names like Red Sox Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk and Mets’ pitching phenom Dwight Gooden. The quest to find and meet with Fisk and Gooden is understandably more quixotic than Randy Ready, but Balukjian tilts away.
“The Wax Pack” is an enjoyable read by an author who shares a love of baseball and baseball cards. An author who appreciates that baseball cards provide threads to a past that many of us still cherish.