When The Canal Zone Played Baseball
by George Chevalier

Listen with me for a while, to those long lost sounds of a baseball game coming from the old Balboa Stadium as we try to remember some of those who played the game.

Baseball came to the Zone with the first workers hired to dig the big ditch and it has been said that some were hired because of their baseball talent to insure a source of recreational outlet for the labor force. Leagues were formed that represented the different construction towns and work groups at first.

In the years following completion of the canal the Isthmian League was formed with mainly a civilian team from Balboa and Cristobal and an Army and Navy team. The players composing these teams were living and working on the Isthmus.

As kids we hoped to get a job as either ball shagger or bat boy for our home town team. Ball shagger was the first step and the hardest for every time a ball was hit back over the stadium you were off like a shot to try and retrieve it from the parking lot area before someone else made off with it.

Rooting of course for Balboa our hero was the mighty George Tarflinger who could blast out homeruns into the Banyan Trees on Roosevelt Ave. from homeplate. Some of the other names so familiar on the field in those days were as follows; Alberga, Sanders, Green, Pescod, Campbell, Curtis, Deslondes, Coffee, Williams, Ridge, Meade, Sullivan, Corrigan, Barlow, McGlade and Horter. Please forgive me for those I may have forgotten.

With the approaching war and the draft in the States we began to get many minor league players coming down during the winter to play for the then Balboa, Diablo, Cristobal and Colon Teams. With so much defense buildup in progress these stateside players were given jobs while the ball season was on. Games were held on Sunday afternoons and a seven inning game on Wednesday P.M. starting around four until dusk. As draftees began to arrive from the states many were pro ball players who were signed up to play in the Isthmian League and many of the civilian pro players decided to stay here for the duration.

The military players were full time Jockers for in addition to the civilian playing they also played for their base teams in the military league. There were a number of marriages by these imported ball players with our local girls and many chose to stay on in the Zone after the war ended. Isthmian Baseball was at the height of it's glory during the war years and was considered very important to worker morale during the war era and was never to achieve or maintain the same greatness after the war.

Of the many who played in those days I remember Terry Moore and Whitey Kurowski of the St.Louis Cardinals who played on the Zone for Colon. Mickey Harris of the Boston Red Sox played for Balboa and Jim Honochick came from the Baltimore Orioles to play for Balboa. He stayed to be a gym teacher for BHS in my Senior year and after the war went on to a full career as a well known major league umpire. Big Dale Thornton our catcher for Balboa stayed on for a career with the Canal and so did another very nice guy who had played 1st. base for Diablo, with his New England accent, Leo Eastham. Who can forget our umpire "Zip" Zierten who also happened to be our mechanical drawing teacher in high school and as a bat boy you were very careful not to yell"you're blind as a bat ump" too loud for fear he would know who yelled and get you in class next day.

Balboa had a pitcher named Darden Archer who drove umpires crazy by playing a very tiny harmonica that he could hide completely in his mouth and they could not discover the source of the tunes he would play. In Cristobal one game Archer walked three men in a row to load the bases and then walked the fourth man which brought in a run. When Archer got the ball back from the catcher he reared back and threw the ball over the stadium in Mt.Hope into a parking lot. Like a merry-go-round all the men on base walked home to score. The manager for Balboa,Horter by name , had to be restrained from beaning Archer with a ball bat.

While I have not been able to remember all who participated in those great days I do treasure the memory of the games of our dry season league.