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Covering all the bases

Boston sports from a Latino perspective

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / June 30, 2008

Gil Matos
Age: 32
Resides: Waltham
Hometown: Lawrence
Family: Lives with his girlfriend. His father, Enrique, is a park ranger at the State House and also works in security for Lawrence public schools. His mother, Miriam, is a former kindergarten classroom aide.
Favorite baseball player: Ken Griffey Jr. "I'm a loyal guy, so I still support Normar Garciaparra, too."
Favorite Red Sox player: "David Ortiz (right), because of what he does on the field and what he does off the field for people in need."
Favorite movies: "The Silence of the Lambs" and "City of God"
Favorite book: "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho
Hobbies: Working out, playing fantasy sports

CAMBRIDGE - Twice a week inside the Central Square studios of WRCA-AM (1330), Gil Matos debates with his Spanish listeners the latest in Red Sox, Celtics, and boxing news on the show "Sus Deportes" ("Your Sports"). At Fenway Park, he scores interviews with Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo, and David Ortiz, who speak candidly in their native Spanish about their views on family, food, and fame.

When Matos isn't on the radio, he's in print, chronicling sports for Boston's Spanish-language newspaper, El Mundo. He's also on TV, reporting in English for Boston Neighborhood Network's show "Boston Latino TV."

Matos is one of the city's few broadcasters who move from English to Spanish with the ease of a switch-hitter. Others include WCVB-TV news reporters Jorge Quiroga and Amalia Barreda as well as WBZ-TV (Channel 4) "Centro" segment host Yadires Nova-Salcedo and WHDH-TV (Channel 7) contributor Alberto Vasallo III.

But Matos also represents an emerging breed of young multimedia journalists who are bypassing the traditional route into broadcasting by having a foothold in smaller media outlets. Rather than work his way up from a small TV or radio market, Matos dived right into covering Boston professional sports. And he does this from a Latino perspective that is often absent in mainstream media.

"Just like Boston in general is a passionate city about sports, I love the passion that the Latinos bring to sports," says Matos, 32, who graduated from Emerson College in 2006. His radio and TV stints are part-time, volunteer endeavors. His day job: recruitment coordinator for Hult International Business School in Cambridge. He also bartends on weekends to pay his student loans. "There's a different spectrum of sports that aren't necessarily covered in mainstream sports [media]. You won't really hear boxing talk on WEEI. You won't hear soccer talk on WEEI, and that's something that the Latino base is very passionate about. But at the same time there's a segment that's very passionate about baseball and basketball. . . . I enjoy being in the community's ear."

Matos grew up in Lawrence with a love for beisbol, thanks to his Cuban-born father and Dominican-born mother. The family watched the Sox play on TV and at Fenway, and they often debated the latest games.

"I love sports. I was always the guy calling my friends and being like, 'Hey, did you hear what happened to so and so?' I get home, and it's 'SportsCenter' or reading a sports magazine or the sports page," says Matos, who has three younger brothers and a half-brother. After graduating from Andover High School, he worked in various jobs: purchase order manager and college textbook seller. He eventually realized he couldn't outrun his passion for sports talk.

"People have always said, 'You have a really good voice for broadcasting,' " says Matos, who in 2003 decided to follow that career advice. He enrolled in Northern Essex Community College and then Emerson College to study broadcast journalism. Outside school, he reported on Haverhill's high school sports for community television, and he interned at NESN.

After graduating from Emerson, Matos met Greg Molina, founder of the "Sus Deportes" radio program, which covers Boston's professional sports with a Hispanic sensibility. Molina hired Matos as a host.

"He can relate to the major market and the Latino market," says Molina, a former Red Sox analyst. "Gil is able to draw from the Anglo athletes answers that reciprocate with the Latino community."

For the radio show and for El Mundo, Matos, for example, asks Latino Red Sox players as well as their visiting competitors off-the-cuff questions: What they bought with their first professional check? Who is the worst-dressed player on their team? Do they prefer merengue or bachata when they party?

In an interview with Sox pitcher Manny Delcarmen, Matos asked him about being a new father. When Matos interviewed closer Jonathan Papelbon, he also persuaded him to narrate a promo in Spanish for the show.

"The Latino players are sometimes afraid to speak to the mainstream media because they don't represent themselves that well in English," Matos says. "Even when they do speak in English, they feel so much more at home speaking in Spanish. There is more of a warmth. If they talk in English, they get five other microphones shoved in their face."

After his show in Cambridge, Matos heads to Boston and dons his other reporter's hat. Two years ago, producers of "Boston Latino TV" recruited Matos as a correspondent. The show, born five years ago after its founders noticed a lack of Latino coverage on local TV, caters to English-speaking Latinos born in the United States.

"We wanted to put more Latinos on the air and to represent this new generation of bilingual, bicultural Latinos," says Evelyn Reyes, one of the show's producers and hosts. "Gil brings that extra edge. We want to see television about us, but in English."

That includes reporting on community nightlife happenings such as the monthly "La Hora del Cafe" event at St. Andrew's United Methodist Church in Jamaica Plain, where poets, singers, and actors perform. Matos also uses the Boston Neighborhood Network format to talk about sports in English. He uploads those segments on YouTube.

Matos's bilingual media convergence "has definitely allowed me to cover professional sports - the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, and championship boxing fights - at a high level rather than cover high school sports in a small market," he says between calls from listeners on a recent radio broadcast.

"I have friends who were working [as broadcasters] up in Maine, and they would come down to cover one or two Red Sox games. I get the chance to be there every day if I wanted to," says Matos, who aspires to be a full-time TV sports anchor. "Covering the pro sports, hopefully, someone from the English side will take notice, and I can make my crossover."

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.

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