Tigers first-base coach Kimera Bartee, who played six seasons in the Majors before embarking on a successful coaching career, has passed away at age 49.
Bartee had just been brought back on manager A.J. Hinch’s coaching staff after joining as first-base coach at midseason. He had previously coached with the Pirates and Phillies before joining the Tigers a year ago to serve as their baserunning instructor.
“Like many across baseball, I was devastated by the news of Kimera’s passing,” Hinch said. “From the start of Spring Training last year, it was clear that ‘KB’ was the epitome of a player’s coach, having an uncanny ability to build deep connections with anyone from a rookie to a 10-year veteran. I was proud of his selflessness and adaptability when he quickly shifted to the Major League staff last season, and how excited he was about the bright future he had in both baseball and life. The sport has lost an amazing man, but more importantly his family has lost a loving fiancé, father, and son.”
Bartee’s hire brought him back to the organization with which he had made his Major League debut as an outfielder in 1996. He stole 20 bases as a rookie in ’96 and hit a leadoff home run off Rookie of the Year candidate Jose Rosado in Kansas City for his first Major League homer that Aug. 24. He played parts of three more seasons in Detroit before stints with the Reds and Rockies.
Bartee eventually found his calling as an instructor, spending nine years in the Pirates organization as their outfield and baserunning coordinator, and managing for a year at Class A State College before becoming Pittsburgh’s first-base coach for three years.
Bartee was a midseason addition to Hinch’s staff after third-base coach Chip Hale became head coach at the University of Arizona. Despite jumping into a new group in July, Bartee endeared himself not only to fellow coaches, but to Tigers players, many of whom had only known him from Spring Training. Bartee picked up and built on bench coach George Lombard’s principles of aggressive, alert baserunning and outfield alignments.
Though the Tigers interviewed other candidates at season’s end, they came back to the idea that Bartee was the best fit.
“Our culture that we were building, our chemistry on our staff, we had a really good thing going,” Hinch said last month. “I didn’t want to change that.”
Born and raised in Omaha, Bartee stayed home and played college ball at Creighton University. He played on the Bluejays team that reached the College World Series in Omaha in 1991.
Bartee would have turned 50 next July. He leaves behind three children.