Locals ready for Maccabi Games in Argentina

Dan Winnick’s hobby of standing 40 feet away from a man firing projectiles his way at 90 mph began with a chance glance across the office at a beautiful Jewish woman.

He struck up a conversation with the woman, who was applying for a job

at the company where Winnick was the IT guy. She mentioned her spot on the swim team for the Maccabi Games — which Winnick had never heard of.

Now, six years on, the Walnut Creek resident will travel to Argentina later this month on his third Maccabi fast-pitch softball squad.

“I’ve probably played on 30 teams in the past six years — I have so many different hats!” said the 29-year-old, laughing.

“But the friends I’ve made at the Maccabiah are instantly lifelong friends because of our Jewish commonality, which is not so on every other team.”

Winnick and a handful of Bay Area residents depart Dec. 22 for the Pan Am Maccabi Games in Buenos Aires. With nearly 500 athletes, coaches, managers and medics, it’s the largest U.S. squad yet to travel to the Pan Am Maccabi Games. Every four years, the Pan Am Macabbi games are held in a Latin American city.

And if one of the team members is going to cause a controversy, it won’t be Glen Davis.

“I have never knowingly used steroids in my life,” said the chuckling San Franciscan even before being asked any questions.

The 45-year-old will be playing in the master’s division for the U.S. softball team.

Davis is far from the dean of San Francisco Maccabi athletes. That honor goes to 70-year-old Michael Milstein — who has racquet, will travel — with the master’s tennis team.

The 6-foot-6 former basketball star hopes to avenge a loss to the eventual gold medalist in the 2001 games in Israel. When asked for his strategy, he sagely replied, “Hit ’em where they ain’t,” echoing the words of 19th-century baseball great Wee Willie Keeler.

On the other end of the age spectrum, 18-year-old South San Francisco resident Yevgeniy “Yev” Kaplinsky will run the point for the youth basketball team.

“I played in the [JCC Maccabi Games] for the San Francisco team, and it feels good to go and represent your city. And this time, I’m representing the whole country,” said Kaplinsky, a Belarus-born redshirt freshman on the Skyline College team who turns 19 on Tuesday, Dec. 18.

“I’ll do my best to go there and win and bring home the gold.”

While Milstein has been playing tennis for longer than Kaplinsky has been alive, neither Davis nor Winnick grew up playing softball. Both started out as baseball players; Winnick played all through college at the University of Hartford.

They made the transition to softball, but it wasn’t easy. While a baseball pitcher stands 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate, softball batters are only 45 feet from the hurler, who also takes a huge stride toward the plate. Facing a pitcher tossing a fastball in the high 80 to low 90 mph range is like a baseball batter seeing a 130 mph fastball.

Plus, with only 60 feet between bases and fences roughly 250 feet from the plate, outfielders Winnick and Davis have found that a misplay in the field all too frequently translates into an inside-the-park home run.

It’s an advantage neither man wants to grant their Canadian, Mexican, Argentinean, Venezuelan or Panamanian opponents.

“The Canadians have already gone public saying they expect to win every game by a wide margin,” said Davis.

“But we’ll just let our bats do the talking.”