The way he was headed, Rod Rodriguez Jr.’s name was going to be put on something in this city one day.
This was a kid who embodied the best Sacramento had to offer. A kid from Oak Park who got nothing but A’s at Hiram Johnson High School. A kid who was going to UC Berkeley’s business school on a scholarship and could have gone anywhere from there, but always said he wanted to come back home.
Rodriguez was 21 years old when some guy seeking out street justice shot him to death in 2007, right outside the Oak Park barbershop where Rodriguez cut hair on the weekends. The shooter thought Rodriguez was someone else. Now he’s doing life without parole.
It was a moment that still haunts Oak Park. Rodriguez tutored a lot of kids in that area. He was the first in his family to go to college, a shining example for other young people in a rough part of town.
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Now comes the memorial. Early next year, the city will open a new soccer field behind Oak Park Community Center, a few blocks up Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from where Rodriguez was shot. It will be a safe haven for young people in Oak Park and so the city, led by Councilman Jay Schenirer, plans to name the field after Rodriguez, a young man who showed other neighborhood kids the way.
“Rod was always for Oak Park so much,” said the kid’s dad, Rod Rodriguez Sr.
Rodriguez Sr. and his wife, Gina, were sitting in their living room this week talking about the field. They’ve started decorating their house for Christmas already. It is a warm home, but there is an emptiness there that slaps you in the face every time Rod Rodriguez Sr. stares at the floor and talks about his son.
“He was just a good kid,” the dad said.
No one would have blamed Rodriguez Jr. if he had left Oak Park and never looked back. Instead, he came home from Berkeley every Thursday after class got out. He’d cut the hair of kids from the neighborhood, tutoring them as he did it. After he graduated, Rodriguez Jr. planned to open a barbershop and restaurant in Oak Park.
Rodriguez’s parents now run a college scholarship in their son’s name, funded by an annual carwash. So far, money has helped five kids with their tuition. It’s also not uncommon for the Rodriguezes to be approached by young people who said they were inspired by their son to get a high school degree or go to college.
“These were kids who had given up,” Rodriguez Sr. said.
Their son never gave up on Oak Park, never tried to pretend he was from anywhere else.
“He told kids they can do anything, no matter where they’re from,” his mother said. “And he would be proud to know they’re honoring his name.”
The heartbreak is in knowing they’re doing it already.
Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat.