How Union Station became Astros’ home

Good evening friends. I’m Dave Ward. And I love trains.

Matter of fact, I grew up just a short distance from our city’s hub for rail transportation – Houston’s Union Station.

Of course, most of you know this now as the cornerstone of Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park.

Union Station opened in 1911. It quickly became the start and end point for hundreds of passenger trains from 17 railways.

Years before the first train arrived in Houston, city leaders designed a city seal prominently showing a locomotive a symbol of progress.

The busiest train route was the Houston-Dallas route where legend has it, conductors favored one town as a food and water stop and would shout “all dine” as the train approached. Well today we know that town as Aldine, TX.

Commercial airliners forced Union Station to close in 1974.

In 2000, this national historic treasure was incorporated into the design of the new Astro’s ballpark where fans can enter the stadium and browse the team’s store.

No surprise the ballpark feature used to celebrate hits, home runs and wins is a replica of an 1860 locomotive complete with an engineer. Fans call Bobby Vasquez “Bobby Dynamite” so named for his Napoleon Dynamite type dance moves.

“I was an intern here in 2000, and the position just kind of came open,” Vazquez told Dave.

A lot of Astros fans would think Vasquez landed the dream job. He sees every home game the Houston Major League Baseball (MLB) team plays.

“I don’t take it for granted, that’s for sure, because we didn’t have a lot of money growing up and going to Astros games was a special event in itself for our family,” Vasquez said. “So when I’m here at Minute Maid Park, I mean I’m a kid again. When our crowd is loud, I feed off their energy. And you know, it’s kind of funny, because they put me on the big screen and I’m supposed to be the one pumping them up, and all of that, but honestly I get my energy from the crowd.”

Like many players, Vasquez is a bit superstitious. Instead of a jersey, he is concerned about his coveralls and your T-shirt.

“If we win a ballgame here at Minute Maid Park, I don’t wash the overall or my T-shirt until we lose, so got to keep those wins in them,” Vasquez admitted.

No matter the fun, his job does come with a few challenges. There is no bathroom for Vasquez to use during the game and he even has a fear of heights.

“It’s not as glamorous as I make it look out there, that’s for sure,” Vasquez said. “I’m about 90 feet off the ground up there and that’s about 89 feet more than what I’m comfortable with. The very first time I ever went up there, I was trying to get down and I was so afraid, I was paralyzed. And I couldn’t move up, I couldn’t move down. And finally, I came down but you know it took a while.

“But when I’m up there, you know, I’m at a ballgame. And that goes away. I get up there and cheer for the Astros. When something good happens, you know, make the bells and whistles and get the train moving down the track. When the team is doing well, I feel that energy up there, but every time that train is making noise, it means something good is happening here with the Astros.”

Well when I was a child my father always told me, “David, the passenger train is the only civilized way to travel.” And Bobby Dynamite and I totally agree on that.

I rode the train to Dallas numerous times when I was a child growing up. But it’s a shame, the Sunset Limited, the train that was Southern Pacific, that went between Houston and Dallas, there’s no train between Houston and Dallas anymore.

It’s a shame, there’s only one train a day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It’s going west to Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, it’s going east to New Orleans and that’s it. You can go to San Antonio and change to many trains over there and New Orleans too.

"Good Evening, Friends: A Broadcaster Shares His Life"

Learn more about Dave Ward's biography.