When I was a kid I loved to collect baseball cards. There was such excitement when I was able to get a new pack of cards. Inside of the waxy wrapper were 14 cards and a flat piece of hard, okay maybe stale bubble gum. It was always a surprise to see who would be on each card. Often I would proceed slowly to the next card with great anticipation of who I would discover next. On the front of each shiny card was a photo of the player in action. He might be diving for a fly ball, or swinging his bat or throwing the ball. On the other side was a wealth of information and a short story. There was information about where the player was from, the positions played, number of hits, stolen bases, batting averages or if the player was a pitcher. There was information about wins, losses, saves and strikeouts. This thin, two inch by three inch card held so much information. Many of the older cards also listed an interesting fact that had nothing to do with baseball along with a drawing, such as the player likes to fly fish during the off season, sings in a church choir or something about his hometown.
I just finished a book, The Wax Pack where the curiosity of the author set him out on a journey. After purchasing an unopened pack of Topps baseball cards on Ebay from 1986, Brad Balukjian decided to take three months and try to track down each of the 14 players and see what their life had been like since leaving baseball. His journey began in California and crisscrossed all of the United States with several stops in Florida before heading up the east coast. He found all but one and most of the players were happy to meet with him and tell their stories. Only 2 were difficult and turned down the invitation or didn’t reply at all. One player had died but Brad was able to meet with family and neighbors. Several of the players were still involved in baseball as coaches, announcers and one was now a sports psychologist.
I was struck by the author’s creativity and persistence and the amazing stories of each person he met. There were stories of growing up, families, challenges, success, navigating failure, community and finding their way after baseball. He was invited to: an airplane hangar, family dinners, chili restaurants, ball games, watch kung fu movies, lift weights, the zoo, batting lessons, schools, Jersey Mikes, bookstores, minor league ballparks, bars, fishing, churches, for drives around town and to toss baseball. Along the way he shares that he learns as much about himself over the 10,000 miles and many stories. The Wax Pack is a tribute to the power of curiosity, of stories and of community. I thought how often I have done similar treks but only in neighborhoods in search of the gifts and people and places that make it great. I was inspired to go out and buy a couple packs of cards, looks like I could be off to some of my favorite places.