Three years ago, the area behind the Oak Park Community Center was an unimproved open field – perfect for troublemakers.
Monday, the community celebrated the transformation of that dead space into a soccer field bearing the name of slain Oak Park honor student Rod Rodriguez Jr.
The project was born from a desire to activate the field behind the community center and Fr. Keith B. Kenny Elementary, said Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer.
“This was a ratty open field where kids went to get in trouble,” Schenirer said. He said he was able to “cobble together” some unallocated funds to make the park space – which doubles as flood protection – happen.
Under the field are 21 lengths of gigantic pipe ready to collect 3.7 million gallons of water in the event of a flood, city officials said. Each pipe measures 10 feet in diameter. The total cost of the project was $650,000.
None of the underground flood protection was evident Monday as two members of the Sacramento Republic FC, Thomas Stewart and Matthias Bonvehi, took to the freshly mowed, lush green field.
The pair put about two dozen kids through drills after the brief ceremony, which was attended by more than 100 people.
Planning already has begun to add a school-community garden at the space through the combined efforts of the city, the school and Soil Born Farms.
“This is a great day,” Schenirer said. “This is one of the best days I’ve had as a council member.”
Schenirer said he sought to allow more sharing between the community center and the Sacramento City Unified School District campus.
The district and the city already have agreed on shared use of the soccer field and nearby basketball courts. The school will use the sites during the day and the parks department after school and on weekends.
When it came time to choose a name for the park, Rodriguez’s quickly became the obvious choice, officials said.
Jessie Ryan, a member of the school district board, said the field will allow Rodriguez’s memory to inspire others. She called it a “fitting tribute” to the honors student.
An Oak Park native, Rodriguez was attending UC Berkeley on a prestigious scholarship when he was shot and killed outside an Oak Park barbershop in 2007.
He attended both Sacramento and Hiram Johnson high schools and was the first in his family to attend college.
Authorities called his murder a case of “mistaken identity.” In 2009, Andre Pulido was sentenced to life without possibility of parole for the murder.
On Monday, the Rodriguez family celebrated the young man’s legacy.
“What better way to keep your son’s name alive? I love it,” said Rodrigo Rodriguez Sr. “This was an empty lot that sat for years. Now it’s a huge positive to the community.”
His mother, Gina Rodriguez, added: “It’s mind-blowing to know his hard work has paid off. He always wanted give back. He always wanted to remember where he came from. Now, he’s never going to get lost.”
Call The Bee’s Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch.