Bartee gets serious, and so do O's

March 14, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The shock hit Kimera Bartee on the June day in 1993 that the Orioles selected him in the 14th round. It wasn't that he had been picked higher than he expected, or lower.

What got to Bartee was the realization that he didn't care one way or the other. Some stranger was calling to offer the chance of a lifetime, an opportunity to play baseball and make lots of money doing it, and deep down, Bartee felt nothing but apathy.

He realized then that he had really just floated through college, doing what he was told and nothing more.

It was time, he thought at that moment, to get serious.

Using that sort of honesty with himself as motivation, Bartee has developed into an excellent prospect. In 1994, a year after batting .246 in rookie ball, Bartee hit .292 for Single-A Frederick, with 22 doubles, four triples and 10 home runs. His speed, however, is why the center fielder has a chance to be a solid major-leaguer: Bartee stole 44 bases in 53 attempts for the Keys.

Bartee arrived at the Orioles' Triple-A and Double-A camp last week and has one big fan. And it's an important one. "He's got a lot of ability," said new Orioles manager Phil Regan, "and he can do a lot of things."

Part of the reason Regan and the Orioles' player development staff think Bartee could be a solid major-leaguer is that he's concerned more about what he can't do. Last Friday, Bartee pulled third base coach Steve Boros aside and made a confession. Bartee has 71 stolen bases in 196 pro games and he admitted to Boros that he isn't very good at stealing bases.

"I don't get very good jumps," Bartee said. "Most of the bases I stole were because I outran the throw to second."

Bartee figures he won't be able to do that at the major-league level. He wants to learn how to read pitchers, how to establish a proper lead. He wants to know how to counter a quick delivery to the plate; if a pitcher used a slide-step last year, Bartee says, he just stayed put at first.

"It shouldn't be that way," Bartee said. "I'm fast enough that I should be able to steal a lot of bases."

There's no arguing that point, or that Bartee has many other tools. Scouts seek players who can hit, hit for power, run, catch and throw. Bartee's only weakness -- other than a need for experience -- is his below-average throwing arm. And, says Orioles hitting coach Lee May, "he's one of those kids who knows how to play; he's very instinctive."

His father, Jerry, had played in the Cardinals' minor-league system and, as his son progressed through high school and at Creighton University, Jerry Bartee impressed upon his son two things. First, Kimera had talent. Second, the talent would be worthless unless he worked hard to take advantage of the tools.

What you don't want to have happen, Jerry Bartee said to Kimera, is to play a few years in the minor leagues and then look back with regret and wonder, "Could I have done more?"

Bartee played hard but uninspired and had a subpar sophomore season at Creighton. Orioles scouting director Gary Nickels saw him play second base and thought that may have hurt him. But area scout Lane Decker pushed Nickels to pick Bartee, and Nickels, following his own rule of thumb to draft for speed in the middle rounds, took a shot.

The draft served as Bartee's wake-up call, and immediately he impressed new rules upon himself. Ask more questions. Play harder. Work harder. Get regular sleep. Eat better.

"I'm eating three meals a day," he said. "I'm not going to say I've cut out fast foods entirely, but I've gotten better."

His weakness? "McDonald's. Quarter-pounder with cheese. Meal deal, with apple pie."

"I'm very impressed with his work ethic," Regan said, "and with the fact that he made the commitment to play winter ball."

Playing for the Orioles' entry in the Australian Baseball League this winter, Bartee hit .328 with 15 homers, 38 RBIs and 26 steals in 58 games. He doubled in his first at-bat of spring training.

If he wasn't serious in June of 1993, Bartee is now.

NOTES: The Orioles will play Seton Hall on Saturday at Al Lang Stadium. . . . Toronto pitching coach Galen Cisco and first base coach Bob Bailor could work at Single-A Hagerstown if the strike continues into the regular season.

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