High above the left field wall at Minute Maid Park, Bobby Vasquez has the best seat in the park.
From his seat at the controls of his locomotive, Vasquez, Major League Baseball's one and only train conductor, can see the whole stadium. And on pleasant evenings when the roof is open, like last Thursday, he can catch a breeze coming from the west.
Vasquez, nicknamed "Bobby Dynamite," has operated the ballpark's iconic train for 17 seasons. An intern with the Houston Astros in 2001, he jumped at the opportunity after the locomotive's original conductor took a promotion. Since then, Vasquez has rode the rails (well, a single section of track beyond left field), for at least 81 home games a season.
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An iconic ballpark fixture in his overalls, Astros cap and orange shirt, Vasquez pumps up the crowd by waving from his perch. His most important role is riding the train back along the track when an Astros player hits a home run, as fireworks explode just overhead (he has earplugs for that, which he generously supplied to our video crew).
On Thursday evening, during a game against the Tigers, Astros sluggers kept Vasquez busy. In the five-run fourth inning, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez and Juan Centeno smashed homers. In the eighth, Jake Marisnick put the Astros ahead for good with the team's fourth home run. The Astros won, 7-6, and currently have the best record in baseball.
While Vasquez concedes there is no better job in the world than his, he concedes it does come with some occupational hazards. The train, easily 450 feet from home plate, is a tempting target for right-handed batters. Astro Evan Gattis dinged the locomotive last year, and Milwaukee Brewers hitter Ricky Weeks hit Vasquez himself with a long ball.
"I reached down to get it and it hit me on the arm," Vasquez said. "Error on the train guy."