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home : columns : dave fjeld
December 2, 2020

10/28/2020 10:06:00 AM
Reminiscing over a wax pack
You're accustomed to having me share reviews of books that I read during summer or winter vacations, but rarely do you get reviews from books I picked up in the fall.
Yes, I dove into a couple of books this fall that I really enjoyed and I'm eager to share them with you. As always, they have a decidedly athletic slant, but are both great reads.
Lately, I've been going for some more obscure-looking sports reads rather than the typical biographies or autobiographies of sports figures past or present. Case in point, last month I reviewed "Billy Ball," which recounts the two-year craze in Major League Baseball that brought Billy Martin back to his native Oakland to manage the A's. Instituting some old-fashioned, fundamental hardball, baseball again not only became fun in Oakland, but successful, too. Bunting, squeeze bunting, stealing, stealing home, hit-and-run and pitchers completing games (unheard of today) made the book an interesting read, especially since I was in my early 20s during that period.
With that kind of book as my premise, I perused the stacks at Barnes & Noble in Mankato, a place I could easily while away an hour or two, and stumbled upon two books that piqued my curiosity.
Book No. 1 was primarily a simple one-word title (although it did have a subtitle, but that's not what caught my eye) - "State," in these big, bold, block red letters, outlined in white. It had high school, or maybe college, symbolically written all over it. When I took a closer look at the picture set behind the title, it was clearly a book about high school girls basketball. The full title of the book is "State: A Team, a Triumph, a Transformation."
The other book had a funky blue, white, yellow and red cover that immediately intrigued me. In fact, it kind of looked like the old plastic wrapping to a 1980s or earlier Topps baseball card wax pack.
Lo and behold, the book's title made sense - "The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball's Afterlife."
If you enjoyed Topps wax pack baseball cards, you'll want to know more about this book.
The Wax Pack
As a kid growing up in the late 1980s or up to 40 years earlier, you remember the classic wax pack.
Yep, inside that wax paper covering were 15 brown cardboard baseball cards with a glossy photo of a player or players on the front and his stats and/or interesting facts on the back. The pack also included a rectangular-shaped stick of flour-coated, pink bubble gum that was so brittle it shattered into a kazillion pieces when you tried to chew it.
Author Brad Balukjian was one of those youngsters who enjoyed the Topps wax pack cards that sold anywhere from 10 cents to $1 in those days. He first recalls buying a wax pack in 1986, so he thought it would be interesting to revisit those wax pack days, by ordering online a single random 1986 wax pack.
He unwrapped the pack and traveled the country to find out what happened to each of the players in that wax pack. His trek, which took seven months and covered over 11,000 miles, occurred in 2015, roughly 30 years after the players in the wax pack were either in the midst of their careers or as they were winding them up.
The players ranged from Jaime (pronounced Heime) Cocanour to Carlton Fisk. Dwight "Doc" Gooden, Rance Mulliniks, Gary Templeton, Randy Ready, Rick Sutcliffe, Vince Coleman, Gary Pettis and Don Carmen also were among the players in the pack. However, he never was able to interview Fisk, Pettis or Gooden, although quests for interviews with all three had their own side interesting and sometimes comical stories.
One player had already died. Al Cowens passed away in 2002, but his brother provided some very interesting information about him.
And, of course, one of the 15 cards in the pack was the dreaded "checklist." Those who enjoyed wax packs back in the day know what I'm talking about and, if you're like me, the checklist always seemed like you got robbed one card.
Most of the interviews and stories were fascinating, especially as he reminisced a little about each player's career, then shared what each player is doing today. Some stories were upbeat; others, not so much.
Balukjian shares a meeting with his father and even connects with the one-time love of his life, with whom he somewhat regrettably broke off their relationship.
To add a fitting start and end to the book, Balukjian even shares details about the making of the classic Topps wax pack, as well as personal stories about the employees who made and packaged the baseball cards.
Single and a professor teaching natural history at Merritt College in Oakland, Calif., Balukjian shares the adventures of his travels and interviews, but also shares some personal visits that fall in the PG-13 category.
Admittedly, this isn't a book anyone younger than 18 years is probably going to read anyway, because most youth that fall in today's teen category won't even know what a "wax pack" is.
At 280 pages, this is not only a fun read, but one you can pickup and put down at your leisure, reading a short or longer chapter at a time. Moreover, "The Wax Pack" is not only well-written, but the author's humor and passion comes through in his first-person account.
This book definitely gets two thumbs up from this reader.
Next week: A look at "State: A Team, a Triumph, a Transformation."

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