'Much too young': Brain tumor leads to death of Tigers first base coach Kimera Bartee, 49
Detroit — Too soon. Too sudden.
Kimera Bartee, 49, died at his father’s home in Omaha, Nebraska, on Monday. The death came less than two months after he had been essentially rehired as the Tigers’ first base coach by manager AJ Hinch.
“Like many across baseball, I was devastated by the news of Kimera’s passing,” Hinch said. “The sport has lost an amazing man, but more importantly his family has lost a loving fiancé, father and son.”
Bartee's father, Jerry Bartee, confirmed to the Omaha World-Herald Tuesday night that the death was caused by a large tumor in the brain. Kimera was rushed to the hospital where he died at 3 a.m. Tuesday morning.
“We had a great sense of pride in him,” Jerry Bartee told the World-Herald. “He developed into the man that his mother and I envisioned, and he made us proud.”
Bartee began his six-year big-league career with the Tigers, wearing the Old English D from 1996 through 1999. His best season turned out to be his rookie year when he played in 110 games, hit .253 and stole 20 bases.
He has the distinction of taking the last Tiger at-bat at old Tiger Stadium.
He played until 2004, but his last years in the big leagues were spent with the Reds (11 games in 2000) and Rockies (12 games in 2001). He also played in Australia and Mexico.
He transitioned into coaching where he spent 12 seasons in the Pirates' organization, the last three (2017-2019) as the club’s first base coach. Prior to that, he spent nine years serving as the Bucs minor league outfield and base running coordinator.
In 2011, he managed the club’s team at State College in the New York-Penn League.
“We are deeply saddened to hear the news of the sudden passing of Kimera Bartee,” said Pirates chairman, Bob Nutting. “He was a great person, whose upbeat attitude and infectious smile would always lift the spirits of anyone who interacted with him. Our hearts go out to his family, whom he loved so much. He was much too young and will be dearly missed.”
Bartee spent the 2020 season as base running and bunting instructor in the Phillies’ organization before being hired by the Tigers last winter to be a roving outfield and base running coach in the minor leagues.
He was promoted to interim first base coach in July after Chip Hale left the staff to become head coach at the University of Arizona.
“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,” Hinch said. “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.”
In October, Hinch opened a search for a permanent first base coach. After conducting several interviews, Bartee won the job.
The Tigers stole 88 bases last year, the most since 2014. Bartee helped maintain and enhance the aggressive style of play instilled by Hinch and coach Ramon Santiago. He connected extremely well with the players, the younger players particularly were drawn to his upbeat, exuberant personality.
“All of us in the Tigers baseball family were shocked and saddened to learn that first base coach Kimera Bartee suddenly passed away on Monday at the age of 49,” general manager Al Avila said. “Throughout his time in our organization as both a player and coach, Kimera was known as a kind soul but intense competitor who did his best every day to elevate those around him to do great things.
“While Tigers fans got used to seeing him in the first base coach’s box, Kimera’s impact on our ballclub went far deeper and will be sorely missed.”
Besides his father, Bartee is survived by his fiance Terri Slide and children Andrew (24), Amari (21) and Taeja (15).
“In speaking with Kimera’s father, we offered our condolences and support to his family,” Avia said. “The thoughts and prayers of everyone in the organization are with Kimera’s family and friends, and his memory and spirit will never be forgotten.”