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How Charlie Culberson Went From Almost Hanging it Up to Unlikely Hero

All it took was one swing from utility infielder Charlie Culberson to go from relative unknown to unlikely hero for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Here's his story.

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    How Charlie Culberson Went From Almost Hanging it Up to Unlikely Hero
    Harry How/Getty Images
    Charlie Culberson #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a solo homerun in front of Dustin Garneau #13 of the Colorado Rockies for a 4-3 win during the tenth inning at Dodger Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles Dodgers clinch the division with the win. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

    The impermeable champagne corks flew through the air as the sudden sprays of the golden bubbly beverage stung the eyes and the senses like sharp arrows.

    Screams and shouts of exultation filled the ears as the collective joy of the last 152 games erupted inside the Dodgers clubhouse celebration.

    It was hard to see and hear through the mist and the music—not to mention the Oakley snow goggles attached to everyone's head—but still, there was one player in particular that stood out among the rest.

    Surrounded by empty bottles of Moet & Chandon and dozens of his Dodger teammates stood Charlie Culberson.

    A journeyman baseball player who had never hit more than three home runs in the big leagues was suddenly suspended in disbelief after hitting the most prodigious homer of his life.

    He was the most unlikely of heroes on a team full of them, but a little less than a year prior, he was ready to hang them up, and say goodbye to the game he loved.

    Culberson missed all but five games last season with the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, the Albuquerque Isotopes, after he underwent back surgery for a herniated disc.

    "I'm just happy to be here," a soaked Culberson said sporadically through champagne showers. "I had back surgery last year. I honestly didn't know if I was going to play baseball again."

    The recovery and rehab for a back injury is one of the toughest obstacles a professional athlete will ever have to go through. For Culberson, the emotional and physical toll was compiled by the fact that he was a free agent.

    "I didn't know the direction my career was headed," he said. "Thankfully, I was at home in Georgia, with my wife, Sarah, and my kids. They gave me a lot of motivation to keep pushing forward."

    So Culberson persevered, and made it his goal to return to the big leagues where he would prove he could still play the game at a high level.

    His comeback started with a tour in the Dominican Winter League where he did enough to impress Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers President of Baseball Operations, into signing a minor league contract that provided him an opportunity to join the team in spring training as a non-roster invitee.

    "I thank the Dodgers for the opportunity, if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here," Culberson said. "They gave me this chance, and a chance to play."

    Culberson excelled at Camelback Ranch in Arizona, proving to be more multi-faceted than a Swiss Army knife. The super-utility player showed his defensive prowess at three different infield positions and both corners of the outfield and wreaked havoc at the plate against left-handed pitching.

    His versatility alone was enough to make the Dodgers opening day roster and start against some of the best southpaws in the sport down the stretch. Two years worth of frustration, patience, and determination culminated with his extra-innings home run off Boone Logan on Sunday. 

    "I'm here to play baseball and I'm lucky enough to be in a moment like this," Culberson continued. "This is something I'll remember for the rest of my life."

    They say, that if a moment is grand enough, it will last forever. That it will be cemented for eternity, justified by the myriad of moments that preceded it.

    In Vin Scully's final game at Dodger Stadium, the moment belonged to Culberson. All it took was one strong swing of the bat, and an immortal call by the best broadcaster the baseball world has ever seen. 

    "Swung on, and a high fly ball to deep left field…the Dodger bench empties and would you believe a home run?" Scully said on the call. " The Dodgers, for the fourth straight year, have won the National League West and what a guy to do it: Charlie Culberson." 

    "He doesn't really know me, but I'm sure he's looked into my background and learned a little bit about me," Culberson said of the call. "To be able to be in a moment like this is unbelievable, I don't know if I deserve it, but I'll definitely say I'm lucky. I feel like I'm on cloud nine."

    Any ordinary individual can be a hero. It takes courage, strength, and perseverance, as well as an undying motivation to endure, despite whatever obstacles life puts in your path.

    So it was only fitting, that a relatively unknown utility infielder played the role to perfection, delivering the shot heard round the baseball world, bringing the Los Angeles Dodgers their fourth consecutive NL West crown. 

    As the legendary Dodgers broadcaster for the past 67 season pointed out, it was Culberson's first home run of the season, first in Dodger blue, and first in over two years, with the last one coming in August of 2014. Needless to say, he picked the right moment to do it.

    "The presence he has is unbelievable," Culberson said of Scully. "The smile he brings, the tone of his voice, he's such a nice person who genuinely cares about us. This one is for you, we're going to 'Win for Vin.'" 

    Whether or not the Dodgers are able to win their first championship in 28 years for Scully is for destiny to decide, but one thing for certain is that Culberson and Scully will forever be linked in baseball lore, their names will be synonymous with each other in trivia contests and history books for years to come.

     

    Tony Capobianco of the Enid News & Eagle contributed to this story.

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