Saturday, July 18, 2009

An Interview with Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald

Gather 'round, kiddies! I've got another treat for you all today. A few weeks ago, I had SI's Stewart Mandel in the building (go ahead and click that link after you read this one, I know you want to). This time around, I've got another special guest that was kind enough to grant me an interview.

Who, you might ask, is that man staring you in the face at the top of this post? Well, some of you may be familiar with his work. He is Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald (here's his archive). He's a columnist/enterprise writer who previously covered the Miami Heat for seven years and the Florida Marlins for two. Before that, he graduated from the University of Florida, where he wrote for the paper there. You may also recognize him from his various appearances on ESPN's "Around the Horn," "First and 10" and "The Sports Reporters." Anyways, he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule and answer some questions I had for him. Enjoy.

Q: What first made you want to become a sports journalist?

Gutierrez: I can't really pinpoint what it was that made me want to be a sports writer, other than the fact that I loved sports and knew I wasn't good enough to play them for a living. I actually left high school thinking I'd go into law, but after a short time I realized that law would bore me and I went with the more exciting, if much less lucrative, career path.

Q: Can you briefly detail your journey from The Independent Florida Alligator to the Palm Beach Post and then to The Miami Herald, and how you wound up with each job?

Gutierrez: Briefly, which is not easy, I got to The Alligator midway through my junior year at UF. I was in a sports reporting class and asked Jamey Eisenberg, now a fantasy football writer for CBS Sports, how to get involved. He brought me to the building and I figured I was screwed because everyone else there had started so much earlier than I did. But it turned out I worked my way up pretty quick, from covering track, which I loved, to women's volleyball, which I loved, to men's basketball, which I loved, to football, which was OK, all within a year and a half.

I was offered a job at the Palm Beach Post before I graduated (I'd interned there), and started in Jan. 2000. Three weeks in, they offered me the Marlins beat, which I obviously took. And about three-quarters into the baseball season, our Heat beat writer, Ethan Skolnick, had left for a job at the Herald. I asked to switch to that beat, which was my dream job at the time, and was allowed to do it. I did that beat for two years there, and I can't say enough about my editors there at the time, Tim Burke and Nick Moscella. They got my career started and they were incredible to work for.

In 2002, the Herald needed a Heat writer, so I applied and got that job. I covered the Heat for five years for them before switching over to concentrate more on columns about two years ago.
Wow, that wasn't exactly brief.

Q: You're a South Florida native, how does it feel to be able to cover sports in the city you grew up in?

Gutierrez: It's an incredible feeling. I have so many friends in this field that had to work in new, unfamiliar cities upon graduation, and I feel so lucky that I stepped right into a scene that I knew well already, and in a place where my family still resides. I remember reading Steve Wyche in the Herald every day during Heat seasons while I was in high school, and when I started covering the Heat for the Herald, it felt so surreal that I was in Steve's old shoes. It's really crazy, to be honest. It's still hard to fathom.

Q: I know being a journalist can be a tough job, but do you ever say to yourself, "wow, I'm getting paid to write about sports?"

Gutierrez: Yeah, I say it all the time. Like when I was in Beijing for the Olympics. Or when I was covering the Finals and the NBA champion Heat. Or when I was at the U.S. Open (tennis). Or when I'm on the set of Sports Reporters, a show I've watched since high school. There are so many experiences I never thought I'd be a part of, and they're all because of this job.

Q: In college, what was your favorite memory as a student-reporter?

Gutierrez: That's a tough one. There are a few that rank up there, like when Steve Spurrier called one of my columns stupid to my face, or any of our road trips to football games, or even playing makeshift soccer in the hallway of the Alligator building. But I gotta say my favorite is being in Phoenix for the 1999 Sweet 16. It was the game where Florida lost to Gonzaga on a last-second tip-in by Casey Calvary. It was my first in-person taste of real March Madness, and being in that locker room with Mike Miller covering his face with a towel so no one could see him crying, and Teddy Dupay bawling, it was just real emotion. It was especially memorable.

Q: How about your favorite story that you've covered in your career, and why?

Gutierrez: Wow, that's a tough question. I've only been doing this for nine years, but I feel like I have so much to choose from. I'd have to go with two, if you're forcing me. One is the story of Alonzo Mourning and his kidney transplant. So many things had to fall into place for him to find his cousin that matched his kidney type, and add on to that Zo's heart and desire to fight through anything, it was just inspiring.

The second is the U.S. men's volleyball team from the 2008 Olympics. I've been a big volleyball fan my whole life, so to watch that team surprise everyone, and overcome the tragedy of the head coach's father-in-law getting murdered, that was just amazing to be around. Plus, Lloy Ball is one of the best sports personalities I've ever been around. If he were in a mainstream sport, he'd be one of the most famous athletes on the planet.

Q: You've been a recurring participant on ESPN's "Around the Horn." Can you talk a little bit about what it's like being on the show, including your first appearance, when Tony Reali caught you glancing at your notes?

Gutierrez: Actually, that wasn't my first appearance. It was either my second or third. Funny thing about that, though, is it's impossible to actually see the note I was looking for in such a brief amount of time, so looking down was kind of pointless. But I played along. Reali is a great guy and he does a great job hosting that show.

It's a fun show to be a part of. The format is a little frustrating because you have to rush through things, and it's tough not actually having the guys in front of you and only seeing them through a monitor and hearing them in an earpiece. But I can't thank the producer of that show enough for giving me a chance to be on there. I'm not doing that show anymore. Mostly sticking to "Sports Reporters" and the occasional "First & 10" appearance, but ATH is such a popular show that it did wonders in terms of my exposure.

Q: Do you have any advice for young, aspiring sports journalists, such as myself?

Gutierrez: Well, my first piece of advice is know what you're getting into. The journalism field isn't what it was even nine years ago when I got into the business, so be sure the opportunities you're looking for are available. Other than that, I would just say find as many chances to write as you can. Don't ever say no when you're asked to cover or write about something because the more experience you get, the better. I've always been lucky to be at the right place at the right time, but I've also been humble and figured if I'm going to move forward, I've got to work harder for it, so I would suggest anyone else coming in should think the same. There are only a handful of gifted writers like, say, a Dan LeBatard. The rest of us just have to try harder to make up the enormous gap. And don't forget to enjoy what you're doing. No matter how tight the deadlines were, I'd always make sure to watch and enjoy every second I could of NBA games I covered because I love the sport so much. That makes up for any frustrations I had with deadlines or bad interviews or just plain bad writing.

Quick Hits:

- Coolest athlete or celebrity you've gotten to meet?
- Gutierrez:
The "coolest" would probably be Jason Williams. I was a huge fan of his for years, then he came to Miami and he was everything I thought he'd be. He's as real as they come.

- Your dream golf foursome: You and any three people, living or dead. Who would it be and why?
Gutierrez: I would have to go with Shoeless Joe Jackson, because I have so many questions, and to see if he was really that dumb; Pete Maravich, because I have a lot of questions, and to pick up some hoops pointers; and Alec Baldwin, because I think he's hilarious, and he looks like with a few beers in him he'd be even funnier.
(Ed. Note: Major props for choosing Pistol Pete, since he is one of this site's all-time favorite players)

- Sports blogs, if any, that you read on the regular?
Gutierrez: I really only read Deadspin regularly. Anything else I would need to be directed to.

- Name one fellow sports writer that is a must-read on a regular basis.
- Gutierrez: Probably Jason Whitlock because you never know what kind of crazy stuff he'll come up with. He's certainly not afraid to tell you how it is, and then tell you how it's supposed to be. I don't have the guts to do that.

- Favorite sport to watch, and why?
- Gutierrez:
I'd have to go with NBA basketball. The athleticism and skill is beyond amazing. A close second is indoor volleyball.

- I offer you a ticket to any one sporting event in the world, past, present or future. Which event would you choose and why?
- Gutierrez: I've had this conversation before, and there were about 500 old sporting events I would've loved to be, so I'll stick to a future event. Probably a tie between a U.S. Late-round match in a World Cup or a Wimbledon final between two players I actually know and like. I haven't been to either of those events.

- Best meal in Miami?
- Gutierrez:
I haven't experienced as many restaurants as I should have down here, because I usually save the extravagant meals for when I'm out of town. But I'm an Italian fan, so I'd have to say half the menu at a place called Cafe Prima Pasta.

- Yes or no: This year, will the Marlins continue their trend of winning a World Series every six years?
- Gutierrez: God, no.

That's all for this interview, folks. Hope you all enjoyed. I want to thank Israel Gutierrez again for taking the time to answer my questions, even though he isn't as optimistic naive as I am about this year's Marlins.


  1. wow that was an amazing interview with a cool guy and a really good writer....he should have more love for the marlins than he does, though.

  2. I could picture Teddy Dupay crying after that game. I could also picture him crying about... well, pretty much anything. I hate that guy. Good interview though. I liked the emphatic "God no" about the Marlins chances.

    By the way, LeBatard is even more genius on the radio than he ever was at writing. That show is comic gold, and one of the things I miss the most about Miami.