Twenty-one years ago, when the JCC Maccabi Games were held in Chicago, Roxy Bernstein was a shortstop and a pitcher on the Northern California team.
Unfortunately, Bernstein remembers, most kids on the team had little idea of what they were doing — because it wasn’t baseball they were playing, it was fast-pitch softball.
“Baseball wasn’t a Maccabi sport back then [in 1988], so the kids who normally played baseball were put onto the softball team,” says Bernstein, who grew up in Hillsborough and still makes his home on the Peninsula.
“The Canadian kids were pretty good; they played fast pitch in school. But we were lost. No one knew how to pitch.”
Bernstein, who also played tennis in the 1986 Maccabi Games in Toronto, has been reminiscing about those experiences lately while preparing to serve as emcee for the Aug. 2 opening ceremonies of the San Francisco games at the Cow Palace.
He was chosen not only for his past Maccabi ties, but because he has gone on to become a well-known voice in the Bay Area sports scene.
In November, Bernstein will begin his 13th season as the radio play-by-play man for the Cal men’s basketball team, a job he began at age 24, barely out of college. He was also a radio announcer for Major League Baseball’s Florida Marlins for three seasons (2005 through 2007) and has done a lot of other work on the local airwaves: for Cal football, the San Jose Sharks and the San Francisco Giants, and on Comcast Sports Net, to name a few.
Last winter, he was one of two finalists for a job as a San Diego Padres television announcer, but he didn’t get it. “For that, there’s no medal for coming in second,” he says with a laugh.
Bernstein, 36, is excited about being the emcee for the opening ceremonies. “It’s going to be a special day for me,” he says.
“Playing Maccabi was a big bonding experience. Back then, it was all one group — Northern California — and beyond that, it was great to meet kids and play against kids from other areas. I remember there were teams from Mexico, Australia and England. I made friends from everywhere.”
One of his favorite memories: playing tennis at center court of Canada’s National Tennis Centre in Toronto. “The stands were empty, but to experience that, especially as a 13-year-old kid, was pretty neat,” he says. “I also remember going on a visit to Wrigley Field while in Chicago, and going to old Exhibition Stadium and the Hockey Hall of Fame while in Toronto.”
During those years, Bernstein was definitely a sports-crazed kid, someone who was beginning to realize he wanted to be a play-by-by announcer when he grew up. And though he wasn’t sitting on the dugout bench at the Maccabi Games pretending to be an announcer under his breath, “the play-by-by of the game was definitely going through my head.”
His biggest idol back in the 1980s was San Francisco Giants announcer Hank Greenwald. “I listened to Hank every night, and he was a huge influence on me,” says Bernstein, who now has a friendship with Hank’s son, Doug Greenwald, the play-by-by man for the Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball team.
Bernstein, who graduated from Pinewood School in Los Altos Hills, honed his athletic skills as a boy by playing youth basketball for Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame. Nowadays, he works out and plays in a men’s basketball league at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City, where his 2-year-old daughter, Berkeley, goes to preschool.
Berkeley? “What’s shocking is that I didn’t pick the name,” assures Bernstein, who is not only a longtime Cal announcer but also a 1996 graduate of U.C. Berkeley. “Nobody believes me, but my wife [Sheri] picked the name — and she went to UCLA! Not that I was going to argue with her when she suggested it.”