Today (Sunday) we lost one of the best professionals I've come across in my 20-plus years in journalism. Former Arizona Republic Phoenix Coyotes beat writer Jim Gintonio died of cancer. I first remember Jim by reading his Media column in the Republic when I was in high school and college. As a radio guy, I wouldn't miss it. It was good fun to see who he was going to criticize next. During this run as a media critic, he got the name "Gin Tonic" by a valley personality who he wrote about on occasion. I first met Jim when I started covering the Coyotes for then Metro Networks back in 2004. He was always great to me, even though I gave him more crap then anyone in this business. Mostly because he let me do it and give it right back to me. It was never personal between he and I, it was more schoolyard picking on and I loved it. I have a few stories about Jim I'd like to share.
It's amazing the relationships Jim had with people and the players he covered. Believe it or not, former Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov loved Jim. Well, loved to pick and have fun with him. Bryz was just a different dude. Another one that liked to have fun with him was former Coyotes forward Danny Carcillo. He maybe was one of the most ruthless toward Jim. His last year with the Coyotes, he purposely stopped by the Blackhawks locker room to say hi to Danny. Carcillo was working out post game in the hallway when they saw each other. Danny tells him in mid-stretch "hey Jim..I heard you were retiring..it's about time." Jim returned with "when was the last time you played man." Carcillo was a scratch for a few games that season. I laughed after he said it and we walked back to the media center and I told him that may be the funniest thing I'd ever heard him say. Jim says "He loves me."
One thing I admired about Jim is he never wanted any attention on him, right until the end. The night the Coyotes presented him with a jersey with his name on it, signed by the team he never stopped smiling. I guess he never knew he was thought of the way the team thought of him.
Of all of the memories of Jim, this one is my favorite. If the Coyotes, or the opposing team, made him rewrite his story late in the third period this phrase came out of Jim's mouth. "Those no good rotten bastards!!" Now..that could be directed to someone on the opposing team, Bryz, the refs, or on occasion his computer. He had a love hate relationship with his work computer, mostly hate. It will be a while, if ever, until I walk into the media center at Jobing.com Arena and not hear "you no good rotten bastards" especially late in the game. That killed me..every time.
Jim was friends with everyone. We all knew him, loved him and respected the hell out of him. Not only that, travelling beat writers liked Jim too. Jim would go out of his way to update them on Coyotes stuff if they needed it.
Toward the end of is career, Jim discovered Twitter and Facebook. You never know when you would hear from Jim, but I always knew I would. Even if it was something simple like mentioning the attendance from a D'backs game, when he would chime in with "did you count them?" It was a cool avenue for Jim, one that I'm not sure he totally got a grasp of, but had fun with. As I write this the word "gintonio" is trending on Twitter in Phoenix. That's the first time Jim has been trendy. Had to take the final shot my friend.
Now for one more. One year he got an intern from ASU to help him during games. Some blonde-haired girl from Canada that lived hockey. I mean this girl came in blazing the sport. She was from Edmonton and knew what she wanted to do. Jim took her under his wing and showed her the ropes. From covering the team daily to game coverage. After a while you just saw this girl was pretty good, really good actually. So one day I asked Jim, "so, it's been a few weeks, what do you think of Sarah." He looks down, smiles and says "she's good, definitely knows the game and probably will cost me my job..(laughing)." Of course, smart ass me says "we can only hope so." Jim knew as Sarah got the gist of things around the arena and the team that when he decided to retire, or the paper decided for him, that the job of beat writer for the Coyotes was in more than capable hands. Sarah, if you are reading this, he thought the world of you and enjoyed the time with you very much.
When I say he was humble, he was. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he didn't talk about it much with a lot of us. I'd be a pest and ask him how things were with treatment and everything. He was very short with me but thanked me for asking. Last season, the Coyotes gave him passes to come to a game with his girlfriend. He told me then that he was going to stop chemo and just enjoy life. An angel came to his side in the woman in his life. I never saw him smile as much he did when he was with her. She made his final days the best of his life, I can just tell.
Finally, one thing I learned from Jim is this. He was never ego-driven, high and mighty and full of himself like some are in this profession. Jim lead by his actions and his work. He was a good writer and even better person and if I can live out my days as good as Jim did, I'm a lucky, lucky man. Good bye my friend. You were a good guy and games at Jobing.com Arena won't be the same without you around even if it was chiming in on social media. Thanks for your friendship over the years.