HOUSTON, TX- In 2000, the Houston Astros left the out-of-date Astrodome behind and moved, lock, stock and bat barrels into a shiny, new ballpark. Then called Enron Field, the complex featured all the modern amenities required by a major league franchise and was quickly heralded as one of the game’s finest stadiums.
It had a train, too, for some ungodly reason.
At the time (and today), it seemed a tad out of place. A full-sized locomotion trotting around the outfield at opportune moments throughout the game. Astro home runs would prompt the train to embrace its own lame sadness, moving back and forth on its 40-foot-long track at a snail’s pace. What a thrill!
Like any train, the one that resides in now Minute Maid Park has a capable conductor. Known to fans (of the team, not of him, obviously, because he has no fans) as Bobby Dynamite, Bobby Vasquez oversees the train’s operation during every Astros home game. Vasquez garnered attention during last year’s playoff run that eventually led the Astros to a World Championship. But Bobby Dynamite wasn’t the first conductor of the most unnecessary vehicle in America. There was one before him, and, like so many stories involving low-level sports stadium employees, the tale of Gary “Pickles” Handersol is a somber one.
When the train was decided upon by team officials and installed high above the outfield, former Astrodome tour guide and amateur water aerobics instructor, Gary Handersol, agreed to man the embarrassment on rails. Known to many of his coworkers as simply, “Pickles,” Gary was, by all accounts, an extremely affable guy. He had a passion his new job. He was finally a part of the team he’d loved and followed for so long. He got to wear a stupid hat like a real train conductor. It was a pathetic dream come true. Pickles beamed.
But, just below his chipper, upbeat personality, Pickles housed personal demons. Fueled by a toxic relationship with then-girlfriend and noted Houston area amphetamine hound, Tracy Milks, Handersol began struggling at his new job and people close to him blamed it on Milks. On one occasion, Pickles was suspected of DUI after a celebratory mishap following a Jeff Bagwell homer. Witnesses claimed the train was moving well above its recommended 2 miles per hour, a definite no-no. It was later revealed that Tracy Milks was onboard the train that evening, tucked away in a small compartment adjacent to her boyfriend’s lap.
After serving an unpaid suspension for that presumably erotic escapade, Pickles only circled further down the toilet. In mid-June of 2000, Hendersol injured his back while attempting an extravagant dismount from his conductor’s station. A month later, Pickles was reprimanded again for, “bathroom habits unbefitting of a member of our stadium staff,” as so stated in a press release from the team. As Enron Park inaugural season was wrapping up, Pickles had become jaded and sour with his employers. His passion for the lamest job in baseball had flickered out and faded away. He was fired in late September.
Today, Gary “Pickles” Hendersol is still an Astros fan, though he feels he got a bad deal from park officials.
“They weren’t ready for Pickles,” he shrugs within the cozy confines of his conversion van home. “Nobody ever is.”