Tigers invite Bartee's family, pay respects to former coach

March 24th, 2022

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers players still remember the message that came just days before Christmas. There had been no communication between clubs and players during the lockout, but this was bigger than baseball.

Kimera Bartee, the Tigers’ first-base coach, had passed away.

“I thought it was a joke,” Jonathan Schoop said. “Then I realized that it was real.”

Bartee was just 49 years old and in great shape. He had a son who had just finished college ball and a daughter in high school. He was engaged to be married. For Tigers players, coaches and officials who had spent every day with him during the season, the news was a shock.

“I was at home, I think, after training,” Akil Baddoo said. “And then [manager] A.J. [Hinch] sent us a text. And I knew it was something serious if A.J. sent us a text. That’s when I called his son and let him know that I’m here for him.”

Bartee was later diagnosed with a large brain tumor.

The news devastated the club, but here in Spring Training is where it has really hit home with players.

“Life is really short. You realize that,” Schoop said. “He was with us and then the offseason’s done and he’s not here anymore. It’s just tough, and it just makes you realize to love each other a little bit more. …

“Last year he was with you all the time -- when you’re on base, you see him in the dugout, in the clubhouse. Of course, he’s supposed to be there, but you just pray to be strong for the family.”

On Wednesday, they had a chance to grieve with Bartee’s loved ones. His father, Jerry, was among a few family members who made the trip to Joker Marchant Stadium, where players met them before their game against the Pirates.

“I was glad to see them,” Baddoo said, “just letting them know the memories that we had together and how great of a coach he was and a mentor to me and how he helped me along the way as he was here. It was just very welcoming to send my condolences to the family and just letting them know I’m here for whatever.”

As Hinch put it, the visit was a chance to share a hug.

“I thought it was a very professional gesture from the Tigers to bring his dad out here and just allow us to just give him a small insight of how much he meant to this club, individuals,” Robbie Grossman said. “It was just something good, very professional of the club to do.”

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

“He was awesome,” Schoop said, “and he was part of our family. He was family for us. For me, too. I bonded really well with him, and we had a really good relationship.”

Grossman went back more than a decade with Bartee to 2008, when he was Grossman’s first outfield instructor in the Pirates’ organization.

“There’s special people out there that impact people’s lives that you always remember,” Grossman said. “You always remember how he treated people and how he respected people. He was just an easy guy to like and to get along with and communicate with.”

The Tigers remembered Bartee with a moment of silence before their Grapefruit League opener last week, and are expected to do so again on Opening Day at Comerica Park on April 8. They’ll also wear a patch remembering him on both their home and road uniforms.

“Seeing his parents there, it kind of hit me a little bit more,” Baddoo said. “He meant so much to our organization, not only as a coach but as a person. He was a great guy. He meant a lot to us, so I’m glad we were able to rep him for the whole year with a patch.

“It’s going to be cool to honor him. Definitely still sad. Gone too soon.”