Being a sports fan in upstate New York means that you have to travel a long distance to see teams in the four major sports leagues (baseball, basketball, football, and hockey).
Your favorite teams may be from the opposite ends of New York state, from New York City up to Buffalo. Maybe you cheer on a team that you backed when you were young, or from where you grew up (I’m looking at you, Boston and Philadelphia fans who now live in upstate New York).
Just because the teams you see on television aren’t right around the corner doesn’t mean you can’t find a great game or sporting event in upstate New York. Here’s a guide to some of the games, competitions, tournaments, and cool places to go for the true sports fan.
Tri City ValleyCats: Just across the river from Albany is the home of the Class A Short Season affiliate of the Houston Astros. The ValleyCats play their games from June through September. You’ll enjoy a great night out, and you might even see a future major league star while you’re there. Current stars who have put on a Valley Cats jersey include J.D. Martinez, Jose Altuve, and George Springer.
Hudson Valley Renegades: Down in Fishkill in the Hudson Valley, you’ll find the Class A Short Season affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Much like the experience during a night out at the ValleyCats game, you’ll enjoy the family atmosphere and plenty of fun that comes along with it. Major league stars Wade Davis and Evan Longoria are among the alums who have worn a Renegades jersey.
Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League: Here’s your chance to see baseball in its purest form. Players must have eligibility left to play in college to be a part of this league, which has a schedule from May to July. It’s easy to catch a game in Albany, Amsterdam, Boonville, Glens Falls, or Saugerties.
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum: It’s easy to forget that this shrine to baseball is located just an hour outside of Albany, in Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame and Museum are open 362 days a year, and open with extended hours during the summer. You may want to visit during a quiet time outside of the summer months to try and take it all in, and then, plan to go at least once in late July during Hall of Fame Weekend. That’s when famous Major League Baseball players are inducted into Cooperstown, and when tens of thousands of fans flock to the small upstate village for that once-in-a-lifetime experience to meet their baseball heroes.
Albany Patroons: Albany has a rich basketball history, starting with the Patroons. While the franchise has had on-again, off-again success, there’s no denying that for the true sports fan, seeing a Patroons game at the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany is a chance to take in the history of Albany basketball, while also seeing an exciting game.
Plenty of players who have made it onto a National Basketball Association (NBA) court have come through Albany. Perhaps the most famous name with an affiliation to the Patroons is Phil Jackson. The legendary Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach won a Continental Basketball Association (CBA) championship with the Patroons in 1984.
Siena Saints: The Siena men’s basketball team plays its home games at the Times Union Center in Albany. The Saints continue to build a large local following, and have had plenty of success, specifically during a three-year period from 2008 to 2010, where they made consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament.
The Siena men’s and women’s teams play in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). In recent years, the Saints, and the city of Albany, have hosted the MAAC men’s and women’s conference tournaments, with the winners claiming an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Albany has hosted the MAAC tournaments 20 times, as of 2019; however, the MAAC tournament will be moving from Albany to Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Albany Great Danes: Another great option for a basketball game is on the UAlbany campus. The Great Danes play in the America East Conference, and host games on campus at SEFCU Arena. The men’s team has appeared in five NCAA tournaments, and the women’s team in six, having won the America East Conference tournament six straight years between 2012 and 2017.
Syracuse University: Upstate New York residents know that the love of the Orange is strong. A manageable drive from most parts of the state, a trip to Syracuse isn’t complete without a stop for a game at the iconic Carrier Dome. When full, the stadium seats close to 50,000 people, but during basketball season, a curtain is dropped to cut the dome in half. It’s still an amazing atmosphere, with big-name teams like Duke, North Carolina, and more paying yearly visits to central New York.
Don’t just go for the men’s games; the women’s basketball team has had plenty of success in recent years, and made the NCAA Tournament final in 2016, losing to Connecticut.
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: A 90-minute trip east from the Capital Region will take you to the museum known as the “Birthplace of Basketball” in Springfield, Mass. From historic memorabilia to special events, the Basketball Hall of Fame is a must-see for the basketball fan.
College: In 2014, the Union College Dutchmen won an NCAA title with a win against Minnesota in the Frozen Four. Playing in the ECAC hockey league, Union’s rival in the Capital Region is RPI, also a two-time national champion. Check out a game at one of the “hockey barns” on each campus, but also make sure to grab a ticket for the Mayor’s Cup. While the teams have a history of games dating back more than a century, the newly named Mayor’s Cup gives the women’s and men’s teams a chance to square off on the ice at the Times Union Center.
Pros: National Hockey League fans in upstate New York have a little bit of work to do to see a game. You’d have to drive (or take the train) to the New York City area to see the New York Rangers in Manhattan, the New York Islanders in Brooklyn or on Long Island, or the New Jersey Devils in northern New Jersey. You can head west to Buffalo to watch the Sabres, east to watch the Boston Bruins, or north (with your passport) to see the Montreal Canadiens.
To watch the pros of the future, check out an American Hockey League (AHL) game. Even though it’s considered the “minor leagues,” there’s major action at these games. Hockey fans will remember when there was a team in Albany; that team is now the Binghamton Devils (affiliate of the New Jersey Devils). Manageable drives (roughly two hours or less) will get you to four other AHL cities: You can head west and check out the Utica Comets (affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks), or the Syracuse Crunch (affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning); or go east/southeast to see the Springfield Thunderbirds (affiliate of the Florida Panthers), or the Hartford Wolf Pack (affiliate of the New York Rangers).
One level below the AHL is the East Coast Hockey League, or ECHL. Just an hour north of Albany, in Glens Falls, you’ll be able to catch an Adirondack Thunder game. Glens Falls has a rich hockey history; the arena there has played host to minor league teams associated with the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Calgary Flames, and currently, the New Jersey Devils.
For the true hockey fan who enjoys the history of the game, a trip to the Adirondacks, and specifically, Lake Placid, is a must. The village is rich in history, having hosted the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, and is best known as the location for perhaps the biggest upset in all of sports history. In the 1980 Olympics, a young and underdog United States men’s hockey team defeated the former Soviet Union 4-3 in a semifinal game now known as the “Miracle on Ice.” Hockey fans will want to tour the Herb Brooks Arena, where it all happened. The arena is named after the head coach of the U.S. team that brought home the gold medal that year.
For more than a decade and a half, fans of the New York Giants loved summertime in Albany, because it meant a chance to catch up with their favorite players. The team held their summer training camp at the University at Albany, but announced in 2013 that their annual trip upstate would be coming to an end.
You’ve still got plenty of great options to catch a football game. In Albany alone, you can catch the Albany Great Danes, who compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, or FCS. You’ve got Division III action on the Union and RPI campuses. In 2018, RPI reached the national quarterfinals in Division III with a 10-win season, the second-most wins in a single season in school history.
One of the most exciting additions to the football landscape in upstate New York has been the establishment of the Albany Empire, an Arena Football League (AFL) team that plays its games at the Times Union Center in Albany. With a who’s who of big names, former NFL stars, and more on the ownership team, Albany has already made a big splash in the AFL. If you haven’t checked out one of these fast-paced games, make sure you plan to see one. The Empire’s season begins in April, and runs through July.
If the four major sports aren’t for you, don’t worry. Here are some other options:
Saratoga Race Course: The history of horse racing in Saratoga dates back to the 19th century, and the city has become a getaway destination for fans who love spending time at the track during the warm summer months. Some people come for the full time of the summer track season in Saratoga. If you don’t have a few weeks to spend in the Spa City, there are a couple of can’t-miss days, including the Whitney Handicap and the Travers Stakes.
In 2019, the New York Racing Association announced that the summer meet at Saratoga would be extended, starting earlier in July.
Many people don’t know that the International Boxing Hall of Fame lies right in the middle of central New York. The hall is located in Canastota (just east of Syracuse), and is open seven days a week to visitors. The biggest names in boxing history, from the pioneers of the sport to the modern-day legends, have all been enshrined at the facility. Each year, Canastota becomes the showcase of the boxing world, hosting a Hall of Fame weekend that includes boxing action, a parade, and an induction ceremony.
Here’s a can’t-miss event for sports fans in upstate New York. The Aurora Games will celebrate the best in women’s sports, entertainment, and culture. Athletes from more than 15 countries will come to Albany in August 2019 to compete in tennis, gymnastics, basketball, ice hockey, figure skating, beach volleyball, and more. The format will be an Americas-Versus-the-World competition over the six days of games.
This first-of-its-kind event has the support of legendary athletes such as Nancy Kerrigan, Chris Evert, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
When the snow melts away, and the grass firms up even a little in upstate New York, golfers jump on the course and enjoy some picturesque and challenging courses. If you’re a golf fan, you may not always get to see the biggest names. However, there are a couple of ways you can see some competitive golfers close to home.
Once again, the Symetra Tour will be making its way to Albany. The tournament, scheduled for July, is a chance to see up-and-coming female golfers square off in competition.
The PGA Tour Champions make routine stops in Rochester and Endicott (outside of Binghamton), if you’re willing to take a little more of a drive.
While the popularity of soccer seems to increase by the year, it’s still not easy to catch a competitive pro-level soccer game in upstate New York. Sure, there are plenty of places to play and join leagues. To watch a professional game, however, you’ll have to make your way to the bigger cities.
The largest professional league in the United States is Major League Soccer, or MLS. To catch a game, you’ll have to head to New York City (to see either New York City FC or New York Red Bulls), east to the Boston area to see the New England Revolution, or north, into Canada, to watch the Montreal Impact.
It’s difficult to beat the excitement that you’ll feel at a 5k or marathon. From the energy of the spectators, to the rush of participating, these races are often forgotten about when it comes to sporting events, but bring plenty of thrills. Check out races like the Workforce Team Challenge, held each May in downtown Albany, or search for races near you to watch from the sidewalk, or to even join in!
A final tip is to keep an eye out for special events coming to arenas, stadiums, and locations in your community (Times Union Center in Albany, Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, winter and summer sporting events in Lake Placid). You may wind up finding an exciting sporting event that you didn’t even know about in your town.
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