Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a three-part series. The first installment ran in Tuesday’s edition of The Commercial Dispatch, and the second installment was printed in Wednesday’s newspaper.
Brad Haines was clean, but he wasn’t happy.
In December 2013, he went before Judge Lee Coleman, pleaded guilty and had his offense non-adjudicated. Thanks to letters from the Newmans, people from his church and several friends on his behalf, the crime was expunged from Haines’ permanent record, and he was sentenced to a small fine and three years’ probation.
Haines passed the monthly drug tests and random home inspections with ease. Eighteen months in, his probation officer delivered good news: Haines was officially cleared.
Still, the shame, guilt and depression persisted. Every time Haines left his house, he thought anyone who saw him viewed him as an addict and a “scumbag.”
He was happy with Marlee, but he rarely saw her. Per the terms of the custody agreement, Haines was entitled to spend time with his daughter every other Wednesday, every other weekend and every other holiday, but that was it.
Without a solid job history, Haines found it hard to find full-time work. He worked odd jobs — construction, landscaping, whatever he could find.
In March 2016, he was working for his friend Jep Cole’s wrecker service when Tim Younger came in. The Columbus-Lowndes County coach-pitch youth baseball league based at Propst Park had just had its draft, and one volunteer coach’s first practice didn’t go very well. The man spent the entire time yelling like a drill sergeant, demanding push-ups here and sit-ups there. The group of 9-year-olds never even touched a baseball.
Clearly, the team needed a new coach. Cole’s father Sonny recommended Haines, remembering his experience at New Hope.
“That guy right there is a baseball coach,” he said. “He’ll coach it.”
Asked if he would, Haines demurred. Still ashamed of his history with drugs, he was unsure he’d be welcome around the kids. But later that night, he talked to a parent of one of the players, who put his doubts at ease.
“Man, we don’t care,” Haines was told. “We’re happy that you’re doing better. We think it’s great. Come coach our kids.”
Haines took over the team. From the first practice, he was in love.
“I remember driving home that night going, ‘Man, this is the best I’ve felt in 10 years,’” he said. “‘I got to play baseball with a bunch of kids, and it feels fantastic.’”
The team didn’t do well that season, but to Haines, it hardly mattered.
“We didn’t win a whole lot of games, but it gave me joy and happiness again,” he said.
At the end of that park season, he was asked by a couple