Love of baseball creates bond between student, Rancho Santa Fe Patrol officer

Rancho Santa Fe Patrol Officer Rick Petoscia with his friend, Carson Wehlage, and RSF Patrol Chief Matt Wellhouser. Officer Rick gave Carson a one-of-a-kind Lou Gehrig baseball card. Photo by Karen Billing

Over the past two years, Rancho Santa Fe Patrol Officer Rick Petoscia has formed a special friendship with Carson Wehlage, a student with autism at R. Roger Rowe School. While stationed at the school, Petoscia was drawn to the infectiously happy and positive boy.

He watched when Carson came to school early while his sister was in orchestra practice, taking walks around the neighborhood with his mom and his loyal service dog, Lexie. And he saw him at the end of the school day, greeting his mom with enthusiasm.

“Every time he comes out to his mom’s car, he said, ‘I got an “outstanding” today, I did really good,’” said Petoscia, who has been with the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol for almost nine years, coming from a 22-year career in the Navy. “Nothing but a smile on his face every day … Nothing bugs Carson, despite what he goes through.”

Carson thinks just as highly of Officer Rick, saying he is a special friend and that he is happy that he watches over him and keeps him safe every day at school.

As a token of their friendship, this school year Officer Rick gifted his young friend with a one-of-a-kind Lou Gehrig baseball card.

Once Petoscia, a longtime baseball memorabilia collector, learned that Carson played Miracle League baseball, he knew he wanted to give him something from his Gehrig collection, as Gehrig, too, had endured and overcome great challenges.

Considered one of the greatest first basemen of all time, the six-time World Champion with the New York Yankees was forced to retire at age 36 because of ALS. He was elected to the Hall of Fame and was the first Major League Baseball player to have his number retired. (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. It is often now referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.)

The card Carson received from Petoscia includes a piece of a jersey that Gehrig wore in 1927.

Carson, who plays third base, said he thinks the card is “awesome” and that he couldn’t believe Officer Rick gave it to him. He said he would treasure the card forever and always remember his friend when he looks at it.

“Thank you for noticing how hard life is sometimes for me and my family, but the kindness like you showed can go such a long way,” Carson said. “I don’t always feel like I make achievements that get noticed. But you noticed me. And shared wonderful things with me. And became a friend to me. Thank you with all my heart.”

RSF Patrol Chief Matt Wellhouser said what Petoscia did for Carson was very neat, and it is part of the special relationship that the patrol can have with the community. The children get to know the officers who are there to keep watch on them and don’t hesitate to approach them when they need help.

“What (the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol) does for the community is so wonderful, and it’s shown by Officer Rick’s act of kindness to Carson,” said Carson’s father, Charles Wehlage.

Petoscia was touched by Carson’s thoughtful thank-you note but humbly deflected the praise.

“I have a duty to be here,” he said. “Whatever officer is here is going to do the same thing, no matter what. It’s what we do.”