Just over a year ago, I started a series of book reviews here on The Good Phight. I made it through two of them before some bad news in real life and (gestures wildly everywhere) got in the way. In the meantime, the author went on John Stolnis’ Hittin’ Season and Smarty already reviewed this book, but with their okay, I’m doing it as well.
The Wax Pack is a book that many of us wish we could have written when we were twelve. Brad Balukjian had an epiphany about his long past baseball card collection, went and bought an unopened pack of 1986 Topps, and set out in search of the fourteen players within. Driving twelve thousand miles across North America, Balukjian met some of these great characters, and asked them about their lives.
Growing up a Phillies’ fan, Balukjian was most excited about meeting Don Carman and Randy Ready, two erstwhile Phils. Ready, a light-hitting utility player, endured unspeakable tragedy, which is recounted in grave detail. His father, Max, died while working on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline when Ready was just 16. His wife, Doreen, had a heart attack and became nearly comatose when he was just 26. Still, Ready takes the time to answer Balukjian’s earnest questions with earnest answers, and takes the time to go bowling with him.
Don Carman, then, was Balukjian’s favorite player as a youngster.
After a detour to visit Carman’s hometown of Camargo, OK, where the police log features the entry “cattle standing in road,” and his family still lives; Balukjian meets Carman in Naples, FL. At the zoo, of all places. Zoo With Don. As it turns out, Carman also answers Balukjian’s earnest questions with earnest answers (that’s a theme in this book), and his story is also rather somber (also a theme). Finally, after all that, Carman turns to the author and asks “Do you want to throw a bit?” and the two play catch in his backyard.
Imagine that as a twelve year old. Playing catch with your favorite player. Oh man.
The Wax Pack is a great book, part memoir, part travelogue, part trip down memory lane and part what-could-have-been. It’s truly worth the read.
One final thing I need to mention. My father passed away in December of 2020, and my mother in December of 2009, both from cancer. I read to both of them during their last few days. To Mom, I read Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island, but to Dad, I read this book, and there were several parts that made me break and stop and cry, beginning with the dedication:
I have both my parents to thank for my love of baseball. Just like Balukjian, my father took me to many games, and my mom once gave me a biography of Ty Cobb inscribed “from the meanest woman who ever took you to a ballgame.” So this book connected with me on a very emotional level. Despite that, it’s truly worth the read. 10/10.
The Wax Pack is available on Amazon.com and most likely at your local bookstore.
Note: I received a free copy of The Wax Pack from the publisher in exchange for this review. The commentary and rating provided are my own, and were not influenced by the above.
TGP Book Review #1 - State of Play