Brad Balukjian’s baseball book was rejected 38 times. How he finally brought ‘The Wax Pack’ to life.

2

Brad Balukjian’s idea for his first ebook — tear open a pack of 1986 Topps baseball playing cards, chomp the traditional pink rectangle of gum-ish substance, then hit the highway to unwrap the post-baseball lives of the gamers discovered within the pack — is so clearly compelling that it’s the envy of any wannabe-author sportswriter who has by no means been in a position to summon the appropriate concept.

It’s such an exquisite and crisp concept that it’s a shock it’s by no means been executed earlier than. But it hasn’t, and Balukjian is such a likable narrator, who makes use of his personal story because the connective tissue between chapters on his pursuit of gamers (amongst them the elusive Carlton Fisk, a kind-hearted Rick Sutcliffe, and the sadly unreliable Dwight Gooden), that this sportswriter finds it straightforward to checklist “The Wax Pack” with Mark Winegardner’s “Prophet of the Sandlots” and Terry Pluto’s “The Curse of Rocky Colavito” amongst his all-time favorites.

It’s not “Ball Four,” as a result of nothing is, however its quest is actually an extension of probably the most well-known quote from Jim Bouton’s iconic memoir: “You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

The shock shouldn’t be that Balukjian’s ebook is successful — it was not too long ago ranked No. 1 amongst Amazon’s top-selling baseball books — however that it took so lengthy to get the inexperienced mild from a writer. Balukjian, a Rhode Island native who shouldn’t be a sportswriter however a biology professor at Merritt College in Oakland, Calif., endured 38 rejections earlier than he discovered a writer, the University of Nebraska Press.

“I think that even the people that rejected it thought it was a really good idea and even thought that my writing was really good,’’ said Balukjian, who grew up a Phillies fan and connects with his boyhood hero, former pitcher Don Carman, at the core of the book.

“A big thing was that I didn’t have a platform,” Balukjian mentioned. “The major publishing houses have become so risk-averse that they want you to have a built-in following of 100,000 Twitter followers or some form of celebrity. So they were like, ‘Well, no one knows who Brad Balukjian is, so we don’t think we can sell enough copies to justify a deal.’

“And there was some of the ‘no one knows about these players.’ There was some of the ‘why are you such a big part of the book?’ Some wanted more baseball and less of me and suggested taking the memoir part out of it.

“I just think they were short-sighted to see the vision for the book, which is that it was beyond baseball.”

Brad Balukjian’s baseball book was rejected 38 times. How he finally brought ‘The Wax Pack’ to life.
“The Wax Pack,” by Brad Balukjian, is out now. —Associated Press

Some of Balukjian’s themes in “The Wax Pack” — the connection between fathers and sons, the battle to discover a second act in life, the challenges of being an underdog — may lean towards cliché within the arms of a less-skilled author.

They by no means really feel something however genuine right here, particularly early within the ebook when the creator realizes {that a} poor relationship with their fathers is a typical thread amongst a number of of the primary gamers he meets up with. It helps that so lots of the gamers — most curiously, Carman, former Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager, and journeyman infielder Randy Ready — had been prepared to speak in confidence to Balukjian, to take emotional dangers and be candid with a whole stranger.

That they’re so prepared to speak about what life is like when their identify is now not being written on a lineup card mutes any mystique in regards to the lifetime of an ex-ballplayer. The gamers join with Balukjian, and thus the reader, on a poignant, relatable degree, giving the ebook real heft.

“You could write so many different kinds of books with the concept of basing it on a single pack,’’ said Balukjian. “But as I got into it, I sort of realized that the kind of writing I like to do is participatory. I’m at my best writing-wise when I can do that.

“And then as they’re opening up and telling their stories, I recognized that I should do the same,’’ added Balukjian, who discusses his own battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder, visits with a lost love, and is blunt about some of his own failings. “I wanted to make it clear that I was willing to be as vulnerable as they were and to look at the parallels between the struggles that they had and the struggles that I have.”

The ebook doesn’t lack for humor and good vibes, particularly when Balukjian is foiled — normally quickly — in his pursuit of uncooperative gamers, most notably Fisk. Reading in regards to the intelligent plans he cooks as much as meet up with those that are resistant or detached to the mission presents perception into the resilience he wanted to get “The Wax Pack” printed within the first place.

“I wanted to get everybody, but as it turned out, I think the book is better for the people I didn’t get,’’ Balukjian said. “The stories about Fisk, about [Gary] Pettis, about Gooden, Vince Coleman, they add narrative tension, conflict, drama, all the elements that a good story needs. If the book was just everyone being awesome, it would be a pretty boring book.”

It’s something however that, to the purpose that Balukjian has been requested if he’ll open up a second pack and hit the highway once more in quest of a sequel. He says that isn’t within the playing cards, so to talk.

“People seem frustrated that I don’t want to do that,’’ he said. “If I did a sequel, maybe there would be more money available, it would be easier to get published. But if I’m being honest with myself, would it be as good? The answer is no.

“It wouldn’t be as good with the same device and theme, especially since my story was told in this book, too. I just wouldn’t believe in it the way that I believed in this.”