Just like the rest of us, Charlie Culberson had to learn to walk before he learned to run.
But unlike most of us, once Culberson figured out the second part, he’s rarely revisited the first.
Going full speed is the only thing that ever really suited the highly energetic Culberson.
He hustled his way through the youth leagues, high school and the minors — and as of last week, he hustled himself right into the big leagues.
Culberson, a 23-year-old Rome native who starred at Calhoun High, made his major league debut with the San Francisco Giants last Sunday.
Playing second base and batting seventh in the lineup, Culberson went 1-for-4 during the Giants’ 7-3 victory.
By making it to the majors, he completed a mission that he seemingly started the day he was born.
“Charlie has always been so driven,” said his older sister, Chelce Culberson Dixon. “He has always wanted this so bad and has worked hard for it. We are so proud of him.”
Culberson’s dad, Charles — who played minor-league ball and is now a renowned hitting instructor in Rome — has spent the past two decades watching his son do whatever it took to reach baseball’s highest level.
“I always knew he would make it,” said Charles on Friday, “because he has always been so committed to it.
“In high school, he didn’t go to football games or dances or have (steady) girlfriends because he was pursuing his dream,” added Charles. “He missed out on a lot of things. But to see him go through all of that — and now to see him in the majors — it’s just awesome.”
Culberson has seen action in five games for the Giants. Like many rookies, he has struggled in his first few games, batting .111.
“I was giving him some tips last night,” said Charles with a laugh. “I was telling him, ‘Charlie, you’re trying to pull everything. You need to go the other way with some pitches.’ I guess that’s just the coach in me.”
Chances are, there will be countless more father-son conversations about baseball in the weeks ahead, as Culberson — and his tight-knit family — continue this surreal ride.
GETTING THE MESSAGE
Culberson, who was drafted by the Giants as a supplemental first-round pick (51st overall) in 2007, opened this season with the Fresno Grizzlies, the Giants’ Class AAA farm club.
He batted .284 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 26 games with the club.
Those numbers, along with his previous success in the farm system, allowed him to stay squarely on the radar with the Giants’ front office staff.
Last Saturday night (which was actually early Sunday morning in Rome), Culberson found out he was being called up to the major leagues.
He soon called his parents, setting off a series of wild events.
“He called us at about 12:45 a.m. (on Sunday morning),” said Culberson’s mom, Kim, “and we immediately got up and booked a flight (to Arizona to see Charlie’s debut).”
After getting Charlie’s phone call, Kim and Charles tried to get in contact with his sister Chelce and her husband. But they had already cut their phones off for the night.
“Mom and dad drove down to our house and started banging on the windows to wake us up,” said Chelce with a laugh. “We didn’t know what was going on. We thought something bad had happened. But then dad told us ‘Charlie is going to the Giants.”
In an amazing twist, the Culbersons — party of six — found a flight out of Atlanta that seemed to be almost waiting on them.
“You can call this luck or coincidence or whatever, but I call it faith,” said Charles. “We found a flight that was completely full except for six seats — and the six seats were altogether, side by side, in one row. Some things are just meant to be.”
TAKING IT IN
After arriving in Phoenix and getting to the ballpark, the surreal situation continued for the Culbersons when they spotted Charlie on the field.
Culberson started the game at second base, and went 1-for-4. In the stands, emotions ran high.
“We were all crying,” said Kim, “and when he got that base hit, they got a shot of Charles on TV, and he was tearing up.”
Culberson said he had no clue the call-up was coming.
“I wasn’t expecting anything; it was definitely a surprise,” Culberson told MLB.com that day. “(San Francisco manager Bruce) Bochy told me I was starting and I was definitely pumped about that.”
Culberson’s debut came on Mother’s Day, which was fitting for several reasons — not only because Kim was in attendance but also because Charlie’s wife, Sarah, is expecting.
“It’s hard for me to believe that my baby is married, and is getting ready to have a baby,” said Kim. “To me, he’s still my five-year-old boy, playing baseball behind the levee.”
The Culbersons had to return home from Phoenix later on Sunday night, which made for a whirlwind trip.
They are, however, hoping to soon travel to Miami, when the Giants play the Marlins.
Naturally, the Culbersons have become immersed in West Coast baseball games during the past week — which has created a bit of a strain for a family that lives in the Eastern time zone.
“We’ve been staying up until 1:30 every night, watching the games,” said Chelce. “It’s been a little crazy.”
Of course, this sudden lack of rest hasn’t really bothered the Culberson crew.
After all, real life has become sweeter than their dreams.
“We kept hearing little rumors that Charlie might be getting called up,” said Kim, “(but now that it’s happened), it has just been so exciting, and it’s been non-stop for us.”
Culberson’s call-up occurred amid some sadness for the Culberson family.
J.M. Culberson, a relative of Charlie’s on his father’s side, passed away at the age of 91 during the weekend of Charlie’s debut.
J.M. Culberson is a member of the Rome-Floyd Hall of Fame and was a star player in the Rome textile leagues.
ADDING TO HIS COLLECTION
In the summer of 1999, the Rome News-Tribune ran a story about a local kid who was playing for a handful of youth-league baseball teams at the same time.
The kid, of course, was Charlie Culberson.
The story was accompanied by a photo of Charlie laying on his bed, surrounded on all sides by his various jerseys.
After he outgrew all of those uniforms, he continuously replaced them with new ones, collecting a small mountain of baseball attire throughout his childhood and teen years.
He has worn everything from the black-and-gold of Calhoun to the green-and-yellow of the Augusta GreenJackets.
Then, last weekend, when he buttoned up his latest new jersey — the one with the major league baseball emblem on the tag — it made the work he’d done while wearing those previous uniforms worth the effort.
“I think the thing that makes me so happy about this is that Charlie is doing what he loves,” said Charles. “To see any person get a chance to be living (their) dreams is great. Most people don’t even have dreams.”
Culberson’s rise to the big leagues has created a stream of phone calls for Kim and Charles.
“The community is just so proud of what he’s doing, and the support he’s gotten – it’s been overwhelming,” said Charles. “You know, Charlie has always been a good kid, and tried to (treat people right). And now, that’s coming back to him.”