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White Sox rehire man who wrongly spent 23 years in jail

MLB.com @scottmerkin

CHICAGO -- When the White Sox open their 2018 home schedule April 5 against the Tigers, Nevest Coleman, the team's newest grounds crew member, might be the only person rooting for rain.

"I hope it does rain so I can run on the field and put the tarp out," a laughing Coleman told MLB.com by phone on Monday. "I can go on the field, get soaking wet and cover the field up."

CHICAGO -- When the White Sox open their 2018 home schedule April 5 against the Tigers, Nevest Coleman, the team's newest grounds crew member, might be the only person rooting for rain.

"I hope it does rain so I can run on the field and put the tarp out," a laughing Coleman told MLB.com by phone on Monday. "I can go on the field, get soaking wet and cover the field up."

Coleman certainly could be excused for his bad weather wish. Monday marked the 49-year-old's first day back at work at Guaranteed Rate Field after being wrongly incarcerated for 23 years based on being convicted for first-degree murder and aggravated criminal sexual assault.

For one year prior to the alleged crime, Coleman was a hard-working part of the grounds crew at then Comiskey Park. His goal was to rejoin this same crew shortly after DNA evidence exonerated him and led to his release on Dec. 1, 2017, thanks to the Innocence Project, a program that uses modern DNA testing to clear those wrongly convicted. He interviewed with his old friend, Jerry Powe, who is now Coleman's supervisor and who also was waiting to greet him at 7 a.m. CT on Monday.

"He's got the qualifications," said Powe, who was joined by Harry Smith, another grounds crew member. They are the only two left from when Coleman first worked for the White Sox. "He had them then. He still has them now."

Powe was one of the younger guys on the grounds crew back in 1993 and became good friends with Coleman. He also served as one of the numerous character witnesses for Coleman.

The White Sox did not publicize Coleman's return, but camera crews were lined up when he arrived. While the first day could be considered a bit overwhelming, Coleman is simply excited to get back to the job he truly desired. That job involves power washing, working with the tarp when needed and anything else they want from Coleman.

"They didn't have to hire me back," Coleman said. "I appreciate the White Sox giving me the opportunity to come back to work.

"It was amazing just to see Jerry and Harry standing there to greet me when I came in. Just to see them outside waiting on me, it was a great feeling. To walk around on the field to see how the field is, everything is different in 23 years. It's totally different."

How is it different? Well, the high definition video boards weren't in the outfield and neither was the signage, as Coleman explained. He also was amazed by the heightened security.

"Back then, I just came in Gate 4 and went right in the door. That was it," said Coleman with a laugh. "There are a lot of security gates you have to go through nowadays."

Bo Jackson, Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson and Michael Jordan's baseball foray represented a few of Coleman's memories, but he quickly added that all the players he followed have retired. Coleman currently splits time between suburban Evanston and with his sisters in Chicago and suburban Harvey. He's enjoying life with his two children and three grandchildren and is now back with his White Sox family.

There are things such as cell phone technology and Uber for Coleman to learn and master, and he hopes to get a driver's license by April or May. But there's not a hint of animosity or anger in Coleman's demeanor, which might be the most impressive trait after what he's been through.

"I was angry in there. I was upset that I was locked up," Coleman said. "But once I got out, I realized that you can't take that anger back to the streets and to your family.

"If I'm miserable, then everybody else around me will be miserable. If I'm angry, everybody else will be angry. Why be angry? It's time to live my life now. I have my son, daughter, three grandbabies, sisters and brothers. I don't need them to be miserable and angry because I am. I live day by day and do the best I can. There isn't any sense being angry anymore."

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Chicago White Sox