Brad Balukjian tore open a pack of 1986 Topps baseball cards. He chewed the stale, brittle, powdery bubblegum. And then, he planned a road trip most sports fans could only dream about. The college biology professor set out to meet every player whose image appeared on those old pieces of cardboard.
From Dwight Gooden to Rick Sutcliffe to Carlton Fisk, Balukjian made his list. He wanted to see what life after baseball has been like for each of the former pros.
“I’m just fascinated by what happens when they’re done after the spotlight,” Balukjian said. “I always wanted to do something about those guys I grew up with. And I saw the pack as the perfect device to get a random sample of players from that era.”
Balukjian spent about nine months planning, researching, and exchanging communication with the players and their families to set up meetings. He funded the trip himself. It cost about $8,000 and took him in his 2002 Honda Accord across 30 states, over 11,241 miles, in 48 days. (He boasts 123 cups of coffee fueled him.) He collected his interviews and insights and published them in a book called The Wax Pack. The volume quickly became a favorite among baseball-hungry fans during the coronavirus pandemic.
Does that seem like a costly investment to go seeking a handful of folks who are mostly forgotten in today’s world? Consider this: No one is forgotten in God’s eyes if He has set His love upon them. God loved the world in this way: He sent His Son into it. (See John 3:16.) Jesus literally walked this Earth out of love for those who did, do, and will trust Him for their eternal wellbeing. He didn’t come to seek the famous, gifted, wise, or powerful any more than the common, humble, poor, and weak. All are equally worth His pursuit.
As Balukjian got into his project, he found that the individuals he was pursuing were also worth much more than their performance on the field. He discovered that even athletic greats wrestle with a universally human dilemma: fear and anxiety.
“When I actually started . . . talking to these guys, that’s when it really became something a lot bigger. It was transcending baseball,” Balukjian says, developing into “bigger themes like what is our relationship like with fear. . . . Baseball players and athletes, in general, they have to master fear to be successful. . . . The lessons that they passed on to me [are lessons] we can all benefit from.”