Charlie Culberson won a state title and played for another during his prep career at Calhoun High. At the time, he probably thought that was going to be one of the biggest stages he would every play on in his baseball career.
Well, fast forward about 10 years, and the former Jacket found himself playing on the on the biggest stage there is in baseball period. Culberson saw playing time recently for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series against the Houston Astros, and he made the most of his opportunity. The utility man played in five of the seven World Series games and had three hits in his five at-bats, including a solo homer in the 11th inning of Game 2.
Culberson made the World Series roster after a stellar National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs in which he went 5-for-11 with two doubles, a triple, an RBI and two runs scored as well as making several stellar defensive plays while filling in for injured All-Star Corey Seager.
The Calhoun Times recently caught up with Culberson to discuss what it meant to him to play in a World Series, his home run in extra innings in Game 2, how tough it was coming up one game short of a title with his teammates, the chance he got to play in the NLCS, the upcoming offseason and how he’s still living a dream by playing professional baseball.
Here’s what he had to say:
CT: What was it like playing in a World Series? What were your emotions when you got the word that you would officially be on the World Series roster?
CULBERSON: Especially after this year, spending the whole season in Triple-A, I knew that I would probably have a chance to go back up at some point, but it wasn’t until September. I was just thankful to get the call to go back up, and be able to play in L.A. again. Then I didn’t make the first roster for the NLDS, and then (Corey) Seager was banged up a little bit so I found out the day before the NLCS that I was going to make that roster and there was a good chance that I would be starting against the lefty’s. That was great, but I knew I had a job to do. I had to go out there and prepare myself to be ready and to help the team win. That was a blast to be able to win in Chicago and go to the World Series. I had a good feeling about making the World Series roster, but they still had decisions to make. I found out the day before the first game that I was going to be on the team so that was definitely exciting. It was nice because everyone was there preparing for the games. There was a lot going on with more people there, more media, but in a sense, it felt like another game. Everyone was there to win and prepare themselves to do the best they could. Our mindset was just to win so it was obviously huge being at the World Series, but we all knew what we had to do. It made it a little more comfortable, and you had to tell yourself it was still baseball and our goal was to do what we could do to win.
CT: Talk about your extra-innings homer in Game 2. How special was that, and is that one of those moments where later on you reflect and let it sink in that you hit a home run in the World Series?
CULBERSON: Playing in the World Series is one thing, but being able to contribute a little bit for your team is a huge plus. When I was able to hit my homer in the 11th inning of Game 2, it was very special. I mean I don’t hit a lot of home runs, and for my first hit in the World Series to be a home run to bring us within one run in the 11th, I was thrilled. It was definitely the little kid in me coming out.
It was kind of a whirlwind of the last few weeks with making the NLCS roster, making the World Series roster and my wife losing her grandmother right before that to cancer…it was just a bunch of emotions running through me at that point. I was just out there having fun and enjoying the moment.
CT: How tough was it losing that Game 7 and you and your teammates coming up one win short of a World Series title? How long will that sting last before you can think back more positively on being a part of the postseason?
CULBERSON: Obviously it’s one of those times where it literally comes down to one game. It’s the last game of the season, Nov. 1, this is for all the marbles. And (Houston) came out and played better than we did. It is what it is. They earned the World Series, beat us best out of seven. I didn’t watch them celebrate because I knew what they were doing. I didn’t need to see it as an opposing player because it is what it is. They had the right to celebrate. But yeah, it stings. It hurt worse the first few days just kind of reflecting on it. Now, it’s just motivation going into next year. You keep working to get back to that point and ultimately be the last team on the field. To see how close we got just shows you that anything can happen throughout the course of a season. I was just blessed to be in that position. It shows you how tough it is to win. It really brings everybody super-close together in those times as a team in moments you’ll never forget. Hopefully, we’ll get to experience that again in years to come.
CT: What was your mindset going into the NLCS, knowing you were going play a key role after not getting very many opportunities during the regular season? How determined were you to make that chance count?
CULBERSON: It was nice because the coaching staff is so great in L.A. Working with my hitting coach there, Turner Ward, I tell him I love him. It’s pretty cool. We have a great relationship. He’s helped me out so much, getting into a positive mindset every single day. I kept telling myself to prepare like I’m going to start. If I don’t, I’m still ready to go from Pitch 1. That’s something that a teammate of mine, Chase Utley, has told us in the postseason. You need to be ready from Pitch 1. You have to be ready to go, and your mind has to be ready. Preparing the same way every single day to where when you get to the game, you don’t have to think, you just go out there and play, it goes a long way. Having that confidence and knowing that you’re just out there trying to do your part. Knowing that there is 24 other guys on the team that wants to help win a ballgame is awesome. I was just fortunate to get a few starts there and had a blast. It’s definitely something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It’s something to build on as well. I enjoyed those moments, but it makes me want to get back and do it again.
CT: As you enter the offseason as a free agent, how confident are you that your play in the NLCS and World Series will show teams that you are deserving of a chance to not only sign a contract with them but have a chance to be an everyday player or a top utility guy on Big League roster next season? Are you hoping that you get to stay with the Dodgers?
CULBERSON: I definitely think this postseason has been the biggest point in my career so far. I think that’s pretty easy to say. As of right now, I’m still on the roster with the Dodger. I can still stay on the roster with them if they feel like I can help them out next year, which I know that I can. I’m pretty confident in myself. I keep telling myself that I know that I belong. I think that goes a long way. I would love to stay with the Dodgers, but I know there’s only one person that knows my future. Whatever happens, happens. If I could start somewhere that would great, but I do love putting on a Dodger uniform. I feel confident about this offseason. I feel at ease with whatever comes my way. Right now I’m just enjoying time with my family, and then whatever comes next, we’ll go from there.
CT: Are you still living out a childhood dream getting to play baseball professionally? How appreciative are you for the chance to do that and how much has it proven that if you work hard at something you will have a chance to succeed at it?
CULBERSON: Absolutely. Baseball has given me everything in life, more than I could ever imagined. Having those opportunities, especially being able to ultimately get back to the Big Leagues and have a little bit of success and also failures to learn from, that’s what it’s all about. To be able to put on a uniform for a living and play baseball is something I’ll try to do as long as I can until they tell me I can’t wear a jersey anymore. As you could see when I was fortunate enough to hit a home run in the World Series, that was my emotion the whole time inside. I try to be as professional as possible, but when you see me super excited or jumping out of the dugout when one of our guys hits a home run in the World Series, that is where you see the kid come out of us. We’re grown men being able to play baseball for a living. I’m enjoying every moment. I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for the path I’ve had so far, and I’m trying to enjoy every day I get a chance to play.