Bartee Back in the Big Leagues

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Kimera Bartee’s journey to the Major Leagues took nearly 24 years from July 21, 1972, the day he was born in Omaha, Nebraska. The dream of reaching the game’s highest level became closer to reality when he was draft by the Baltimore Orioles in 1993. His journey included many twists and turns, such as when he was traded from the Orioles to the Twins in September of 1995, only to be taken back by the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft less than three months later. He went on to make the Opening Day roster for the 1996 season, but as a member of the Detroit Tigers after they claimed him off waivers from the O’s. Bartee’s journey to the top was complete, and he would go on to play in parts of six seasons in the Majors, spanning a total of 243 games with three different clubs.

After the outfielder spent 12 games in 2001 with the Colorado Rockies, he was assigned to Triple-A Colorado Springs. The Rockies eventually released him following that year, and after an up-and-down 2002 campaign in the Cubs organization, he found himself out of affiliated baseball. In hopes of keeping that Major League dream alive, Bartee signed with the Ducks in 2003 and went on to become one of the most notable names in franchise history. In his first year, he batted .328 with eight home runs and 87 RBI over 116 games. Although Long Island missed the postseason, he had firmly earned his place on the roster. The following season, he clubbed 27 homers, none bigger than his two-run blast on August 9, 2004 that helped the Ducks defeat the Bluefish to clinch their first-ever postseason berth. He was selected to play in the All-Star Game that season as well and went on to help Long Island clinch its first Atlantic League championship that September.

Bartee would retire from playing professionally following the season, going out as a champion. However, that did not stop him from keeping his dream of returning to the big leagues alive. He went on to spend three seasons as a minor league coach for the organization that drafted him, serving as a coach for the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds. His career then took him to the Pirates, where he would spend the next nine seasons, primarily as an outfield and baserunning coordinator for the organization. His experience in that role, as well as in one season as manager of the State College Spikes, has helped the Pirates regain its place among the top organizations in baseball. In addition, it has now given Bartee another opportunity in “The Show.”

The Pirates announced recently that Bartee would be added to the Major League coaching staff for the 2017 season in the role of first base coach. In addition, he will continue to work on the two areas that have helped him to this point, serving as the team’s outfield and baserunning coach. 21 years after opening the 1996 season in the big leagues, Bartee will be doing the same to start the 2017 campaign.

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We had the chance to catch up with the Ducks’ All-Time Team member recently:

What does it mean to you to make it back to the Major League level, this time as a coach?

“It’s just as exciting as when I was a player. Any time you set a goal and reach that goal, it’s exciting, it’s humbling and it’s everything you want it to be. It’s right up there from when I made my debut as a player, so I’m excited!”

How excited are you to coach many players you have already crossed paths with?

“I’ll be working with a lot of guys who I, for lack of a better term, had a hand in raising. We were a struggling organization when I came in nine years ago, so it’s fun to see where we have gone. Our goal is still to bring home a championship, but the fact that we are up there and in contention, year in and year out, makes it fun.”

What was the best part of that magical 2004 season with the Ducks?

“The individual accolades were okay, but the camaraderie with that team was so unforgettable. I still have relationships with a lot of those guys to this day. Just the fact that we did it as a team; It was well-documented that year how close-knit of a team we were. It wasn’t your typical independent team where guys came in trying to get a job somewhere else. We all came in that year with a mission, and we all wanted to get rings. We talked about it the year before when we came up short of the playoffs, and a lot of us came back. Credit to the Ducks organization too for making some key acquisitions to have it all gel together. Some of the players that did leave to go to organizations made the commitment to come back to the Ducks if they didn’t get a big league call-up. Every one of those guys made their actions match their words. Everything that we all did individually was all for the betterment of the team.”

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Which of your teammates to you still have a close bond with today?

“Patrick Lennon, Doug Jennings, Justin Davies, Bill Pulsipher, Jason Johnson, Kevin Baez obviously. I still keep in contact with Buddy Harrelson too; the list goes on and on. There are a lot of us that are still around the game today. Those are just a few, and if there was an opportunity to meet up with them all, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

How influential has a close friend and teammate like Justin been on you?

“Justin embodies the phrase ‘every day.’ When I think of him, I think of that. He showed up every day ready to play and was ready to give his best every day. I take a lot from him, I learned a lot from him and I continue to do things with his mindset in my mind. I take pride in showing up every day for my job, and I got that from Justin Davies. The fact that he’s out in North Carolina protecting people as a police officer doesn’t surprise me one bit. If I had to sum up Justin in one phrase, it would be ‘every day.’”

You came back to Bethpage Ballpark in 2009 for the 10th Anniversary Celebration and again in 2013 for Kimera Bartee Night. How welcome did you feel so many years after playing for the Ducks?

“That experience was humbling, just the fact that they recognized me, remembered me and embraced me. It’s always going to be a home away from home. From the moment I got there, the way the fans and the city embraced me, and even my teammates and adversaries. How they all understood that what we were doing was special here was humbling. I loved the experience that I had in Long Island. The fact that I was invited back and recognized with the ovations was humbling. They treated me like I was a son. I enjoyed every bit of it, and hopefully I can get back there again soon.”

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How special was it that your first coaching opportunity came with the team that drafted you?

“It’s kind of a funny story.  I wasn’t necessarily looking to coach at the time. I was just calling around to see if there was any interest in me actually playing. The Orioles called back and offered a job as a hitting coach. They just had some changes with their staff, and they had a hitting coach job available in Delmarva. There are things in life that put you in the right place at the right time, and things just happened to work out that way. Now, almost 12 years from that point, I’m where I am today.”

What have you noticed that has enabled the Pirates to be more successful in recent years?

“Probably the ‘buy-in’ and the culture. We (Executive Vice President and General Manager Neal Huntington, Assistant GM Kyle Stark, Chairman of the Board Bob Nutting and President Frank Coonelly) put a culture together nine years ago with the group that came in of ‘changing the world positively through baseball.’  The players and staff started to buy into it and understood what we were trying to do. We were trying to win championships, but there was this bigger goal. We saw this as one of the greatest opportunities in sports to impact the game and reconnect a city with a team and organization because they were disconnected when we came in.  That’s been our motivation.”

Seeing the Cubs win World Series this year with a young roster built mainly from within, and being that they’re a division rival, does that give you more motivation going into 2017?

“It definitely puts a target on their back. I’m sure Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein and everyone over there understands that going in. Does it motivate us? Yes, but it doesn’t motivate us any more than we already were. Our goal was to build a sustainable championship team that can last for several years. We are at that point now. They have taken it to a point where we want to be, so they now have what we want. We have 19 games against them. We are their rival in the division and the ones that give them the biggest fits. We like to battle them, they like to battle us and it may even get chippy at times. At the end of the day, they are our adversaries. We look forward to the challenge, and I’m sure they look forward to it as well. They know they will have a target on their back and that we are coming to get what they’ve got.”

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What do you think is going to be the biggest factor in getting you to where they now are?

“Me being the baserunning and outfield guy, I’m going to put it right on the baserunning. If we step up our baserunning as far as aggressiveness, I don’t think it would be a bonus, it’s a necessity. It’s something that we have to do. It’s nothing that we did wrong before, but it’s just something we can probably get better at. Hopefully I can inject some positive influence into the boys and not teach them, but just remind them of what they’re capable of doing. We have a lot of talented position players on this team, and if they’re reminded of some things they can do and how they can do it, I think we can ramp up our game.”

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Posted on November 4, 2016, in Feature Articles and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. That is a great article! Thanks for posting it! I enjoyed hearing about him and how things were then and now. Please keep posting articles like this!

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