Tigers honor Bartee in Opening Day ceremony

April 9th, 2022

DETROIT -- Amidst the joy of pageantry of Opening Day at Comerica Park, the Tigers had a reminder of the loss they suffered in the offseason. In the home clubhouse, Kimera Bartee’s No. 18 jersey hangs inside a coaches locker. On the team's jerseys this season, a patch with the initials “KB” sits on the shoulder.

That’s one of the many ways the Tigers will honor Bartee, their former outfielder who returned as their first-base coach last year. He was prepared for his first full season on manager A.J. Hinch’s coaching staff when he passed away suddenly just before Christmas at age 49.

The Tigers held a moment of silence for Bartee before their first Spring Training game, and welcomed his parents to a Grapefruit League game. Friday marked Detroit’s chance for a larger ceremony. Bartee’s parents, children and fiancée were on the field to watch as his son, Amari, threw a ceremonial first pitch to Tigers outfielder Robbie Grossman following a pregame video tribute that included highlights from Bartee’s playing and coaching careers, and memories from players.

The Bartee family was holding back tears as the Tigers played a video tribute on the scoreboard that included highlights from Bartee's career, sights of him in walk-off celebrations and quotes from his public appearances.

“That got all of us, very emotional before the game,” Hinch said on Saturday morning. “It was an unbelievable job by the organization. Going to see his family all in tears, we were all in tears. It was just a good reminder of how special a person he was. Hearing his voice again, seeing him at the different events that he was at [last season], it was just an incredible moment that was shared by a team. Seeing Josh Harrison come over from the other side, who KB touched his life, very meaningful.

“I think as men in this industry, as people, we probably don't tell people how much we love them or appreciate them enough until they're gone. And that is something I hope our guys get a lot better at, because [Friday] made us wish we had him back.”

The sight of Harrison spending several minutes with the Bartee family, hugging them all, was a reminder of the scope of Kimera Bartee’s impact in the game. Bartee was an instructor in the Pirates' organization and one of the first people Harrison met when he joined the Bucs in 2009. Bartee later was the club's first-base coach during Harrison’s tenure in Pittsburgh. They crossed paths again in 2020 with the Phillies.

“It didn't dawn on me until the workout day [Thursday] that I was actually going to be here, so it actually ended up being a great situation for me to see the family,” Harrison said. “My wife and I had already paid our respects, but to actually see them and give them a hug [meant a lot] ...

“It's been 12-13 years that I've known him. I saw his kids when they were 10, 12. He knew me before I had kids and he knew my kids. It's bigger than baseball. He was like family. That tribute, all those words were pretty much what he was.”

The emotion was still evident on Saturday morning with Grossman, who first met Bartee after the Pirates selected Grossman in the 2008 MLB Draft.

“There's not too many special people out there like KB,” Grossman said. “And for them to recognize that and have his family there, and even Josh Harrison came over to me, because he obviously spent a lot of time with KB, I was just emotionally moved by that. I was very thankful that we did that for him and his family. It screams how important he was to a lot of people's lives, not just baseball careers.”

Though Bartee was a midseason addition to the coaching staff last year, replacing Chip Hale after he was named head coach at the University of Arizona in early July, Bartee had a major impact on the Tigers in just half of a season. He was another voice conveying the baserunning philosophies that bench coach George Lombard had put in motion, but he was also someone who could relate. Bartee had a solid rookie year in 1996 in Detroit, including 20 stolen bases.