Few things aroused working class passions like baesball, a sport that evolved from a children's game to a national pastime. Baseball in Holyoke began on the sand lots. Children gathered in the alleyways of Holyoke to play picky, a game similar to baseball, but with a broom handle for a bat. Even grownups played along. An agent for Holyoke Water Power Company organized the professional baseball team. Holyoke, like Lowell, New Bedford, Springfield, and Worcester, held International League franchises as early as the 1870s.
Even before Holyoke became a city, groups of young men formed athletic organizations which challenged each other to a game of ball in some dusty field. Some were even formal enough to have uniforms. Later the games would be High School versus Grammar School, Lyman Cotton Mills versus the Lyman Mills, Meteors versus Monitors, the Flats versus the Hill. Baseball fans for years supported the Holyoke Shamrocks and the Sharps which were in th eprofessional league.
Public playgrounds opened in 1910 and in the number of baseball teams in Holyoke increased. The Holyoke team used to play its games at the Springdale playground, when it was a driving park. There was a baseball diamond in the center around which ran a half-mile horserack track.
The Berkshire Brewers, a minor league baseball team needed a new home and the City of Holyoke wanted a baseball team. The Holyoke Millers took teh field in 1977. In 1982, Holyoke Millers were affiliated with the California Angels. Due to dwindling numbers, field availability and cinder in the outfield (due to an incinerator) higher rental fees, Nashua, New Hampshire took over the team.
The Holyoke Boys Club hosted an annual tournament called the Golden Gloves Tournament between 1958 and 2005. Dennis Buckley boxed as Danny Buckly in the late 1930s while still a senior at Holyoke High School. He earned fame as a winner of the Golden Gloves Tournament. Many boxing matches were held at the Valley Arena, which came to being in 1884 as the Gasometer City Works on South Bridge Street in Holyoke. Though built to hold gas tanks, it was transformed into a sporting arena by Homer Rainault in 1926. The first sporting event held there was a high school basketball game St. Jerome's and Sacred Heart High School. Seating was available on the floor and in two balconies.
Undefeated heavyweight champion of the world Rocky Marciano scored his first 49 career victories at the Valley Arena when he beat Lee Epperson, who became the first of his 43 knockout victims in 1947. The Valley Arena had weekly fights from 1926 until the building burned to the grown in 1960.
Wrestling was the third most popular American sport in the 1930s. The Valley Arena was famous for wrestling matches. Paul Adaps and Tom Rae both gained fame under the rounded roof of the arena. Adams achieved the Heavyweight World Champion in 1936 and Rae gained prominence as a heavyweight wrestler. Rae's first teacher was Ernie Rousseau, co-promoter and referee at the Valley Arena, who was considered one of the best-versed wrestlers and teachers in the sport.
Though invented in Springfield, Holyokers took to basketball without reservation. It was not long before championship teams were developed and peach baskets were hung from garage doors throughout the city. Most prominent were the factory teams like the Skinner Girls basketball team, made up of employees from William Skinner & Sons Silk Manufacturing Company. In 1922, they were dubbed the Champions of New England.
Basketball was three decades old in 1922 when the Holyoke Reds defeated the Easthampton Hampers to win the Interstate Basketball League. Holyoke won the 1923 Interstate Basketball League Championships after directors decided to cancel the remainder of the games for the season.
Many Holyoke High School graduates went on to play semi-professional and professional football, including Jim Quill, Ted Lyman, Skinny Gardner, Edmund Wakelin, Moose Bunyan, Archie Roberts, and Jim O'Conner.