The Dos Pueblos Little League has lost its best buddy.
Rick “Buddy” Wolin, a special-needs graduate of Devereaux School and the face of Goleta’s youth baseball league for the last four decades, passed away on Saturday after a bout with cancer. He was 70.
“My heart is broken … and heaven is happy,” said Donna Demeter, one of the many Little League moms who took Wolin under their wing. “He affected my life in such a positive way.”
Wolin helped coach and support countless DPLL teams over the years. He’d ring in each season by leading a cheer during the Opening Day ceremonies. The Little Leaguers would finish it off each time with a resounding shout of “Charge!”
The kids nicknamed him “Buddy” because that’s what he always called them.
“I have a lot of great buddies here,” Wolin said after one Opening Day ceremony. “They come to learn and they come to have fun.
“I do this because I love kids so much. I’m going to keep doing it for as long as I can. Baseball keeps me young.”
Wolin’s relationship with the DP Little League began during the early 1980s when he’d ride his bike from Devereaux to watch the games. He eventually volunteered to coach.
“He kept coming back, and as the years went by, a lot of the moms started taking care of him,” said Dan Rohde, who coached four sons in the DPLL. “His family lived back in Chicago, so a lot of our families invited him to dinner … We’d have him over once a month.
“It kind of progressed into him becoming more involved with the league … becoming an honorary coach.”
Everybody in the Goleta Valley soon got to know Buddy.
“As the years went by, he built and kept relationships,” long-time coach Ralph Randall said. “He rarely forgot anybody who ever played or coached there.
“It always amazed me how well the young kids, as well as the teenagers, related to him.”
Buddy became the good-luck charm for Rohde’s All-Stars in 2006 when they won the State Little League Championship for 9- and 10-year-olds.
“He showed up when we all met to take my motorhome to our first game in Temple City,” Rohde said. “I told him, ‘Buddy, you can’t go. We’ve got all these kids to deal with.’ …And he started crying.
“As I was loading up the kids, he kept saying, ‘Why was I born like this? Why was I born like this?’ I was glad to be wearing sunglasses because I had tears in my eyes, too, watching Buddy wave goodbye to us.”
The team lost its State Tournament opener to Rancho San Diego. The kids admonished Rohde afterward, saying, “You should’ve brought Buddy! You should’ve brought Buddy!”
“The kids loved having him around so much because he was always so positive with them,” he said. “They really fed off that.”
And Buddy made sure he was there for them the rest of the tournament. While the team stayed overnight in a motel, he kept hitching rides to Temple City with various parents to watch the next six games. Rohde’s all-stars won each one.
“I’m not a superstitious guy,” he said, “but I remember looking over my shoulder as we warmed up for the championship game, thinking, ‘He’d better pop out of one of these cars pretty soon.’
“Sure enough, he eventually did, and we beat Upland, 4-0. I’m pretty certain he brought some sort of magic to these kids.”
Wolin had standing dinner dates with several DP Little League families. He dined with the family of Troy and Cheri Davis nearly every Sunday for the last 15 years.
“I’m not sure if it started when Garrett was playing YFL football when he was 8, or when Ryan was playing on DP Little League’s 9-and-10 all-stars,” Cheri said. “Buddy was involved with a lot of teams.
“But there are like eight families that have been looking after Buddy, having him over for dinner, taking him to the store or to pay his rent.”
They included families like the Demeters, the Coffeys, the Tedeschi’s, the Cravens, the Bakers, and the Sotos.
The O’Donnell family remained close to Wolin even after they moved to Westlake.
“They’d pick him up and take him to their house for a night or two,” Demeter said. “He spent Thanksgiving with them the last couple of years, and Christmas with us for the last 10.”
Wolin kept a positive attitude even after he was hospitalized with cancer.
“He never complained, never wanted people to know he was in pain,” Demeter said. “I’d ask him how he was doing and he’d say, ‘Oh, hanging in there … How about you?’
“He even threw out the first pitch at Opening Day this year. He had to get out of his wheelchair to do it. It was pretty emotional.”
Wolin was eventually placed at the Californian, a nursing and rehabilitation center in downtown Santa Barbara. The COVID-19 pandemic left him unable to receive visitors.
“We could only talk to him through the window, and he’d want to give everybody a hug,” Davis said. “That was the real hard part.
“But his Little League families arranged a car caravan with signs, and the personnel there moved him to a window so he could see it. It was a pretty good turnout, too. That was pretty special.”
Buddy’s brother, Jeff Wolin, also arranged to have Dodger manager Dave Roberts and star player Justin Turner give him a phone call of encouragement.
“He was a huge Dodger fan,” Davis said. “I heard they talked with him for about 20 minutes. I’m sure that was a dream come true for Buddy.”
Her three children — Ryan, Garrett, and daughter Cherise Elizabeth — made one last trip to Wolin’s window just before he died.
“He had a special place in all our hearts — it meant a lot to me that we were able to say our goodbyes,” Cheri said. “Ryan wrote on Facebook that, ‘We lost the most positive, kind, caring, purest and loving human on planet earth,’ and I thought that was the perfect way to describe Buddy.”
Meredith O’Donnell put it another way, recalling a phrase that Buddy liked to use.
“We have to go back,” he’d say, “because I left my heart.”
It will remain there now, kept in good care in hundreds of Goleta homes.