Kimera Bartee, an Omaha Central and Creighton baseball star who later played and coached in Major League Baseball for more than two decades, collapsed and died in Omaha early Tuesday. He was 49 years old.
He spent the 2021 season coaching first base for the Detroit Tigers and was coming back for the 2022 season. The Tigers announced Bartee’s passing on Tuesday.
Kimera and his fiancée, Terri Slide, were back in Omaha visiting his parents, including father Jerry, who was once CU’s head baseball coach for three seasons and a longtime coach, teacher and administrator in the Omaha Public Schools.
Jerry Bartee told The World-Herald on Tuesday night that medical examiners determined Kimera had a large brain tumor that cut off the flow of fluid to the brain, causing Kimera to lose consciousness around 3 a.m. Tuesday. Kimera had been in Omaha since Sunday and did not complain of any symptoms, such as headaches.
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“We had a great sense of pride in him,” Jerry Bartee said. “He developed into the man that his mother and I envisioned, and he made us proud.”
Tigers General Manager Al Avila said Tuesday that the organization was “shocked and saddened” to learn of Bartee’s death.
“Throughout his time in our organization, as both a player and a 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,” Avila said. “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 he will be sorely missed.”
A.J. Hinch, the Tigers’ manager, called Bartee the “epitome of a player’s coach” with an “uncanny” ability to build relationships with players.
“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,” Hinch said, referencing Bartee’s addition to the Tigers’ coaching staff in midseason.
A 2018 inductee to the Omaha Public Schools Athletic Hall of Fame, Bartee was the first Central graduate to play in the major leagues. Before he did, he played at Creighton, where he was a part of the 1991 College World Series team. He played two more seasons for the Bluejays, and his 27 steals in 1993 still rank among CU’s top 10 for a single season.
A 14th-round selection of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1993 MLB draft, Bartee played in the minor leagues until 1996. He then played in the majors for six seasons — four with the Tigers, and one each with the Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies.
A long career in coaching included 12 seasons within the Pittsburgh Pirates organization — the last three, 2017-19, as the team’s first base coach. He worked with the Phillies in 2020 and the Tigers in 2021.
Jerry Bartee said several members of the Tigers’ organization called him Tuesday, as did Kimera’s former coach at Creighton, Jim Hendry. Jerry Bartee said funeral arrangements are still pending and will likely be determined Wednesday.
Hendry, who coached Bartee and the Bluejays to the '91 CWS, stayed in touch with Kimera over the years, often running into him at spring training in Florida. Every little reunion exhibited Bartee's charm and humility.
“He was just unbelievably nice," Hendry said. "He could tease you. He could take it back. I could sit here for two hours and talk to you. I couldn’t say anything bad about him.”
Hendry was actually on Bartee's flight to Omaha Sunday night from Atlanta. They spoke briefly during boarding, expressing mutual interest to get together while they were both in Omaha.
Bartee looked healthy and happy, Hendry said.
“Thirty hours later, he was dead. It's a tragedy."