Chris Serrano was trying to wrap his head around the fact that his high school athletic career was drawing to a close, that the Kearny High School standout shortstop/pitcher was actually preparing himself for the last few times he would wear the Kardinals’ uniform.
“Losing last year to COVID was a big blow to me,” Serrano said. “I really didn’t have a good sophomore year, so I just wanted one last chance to have fun with the boys. I think I just tried to do too much as a sophomore. I had a good freshman year, which sort of set me back. I didn’t need to do too much. I was overswinging. I was pulling off a little.”
Then, the coronavirus cancels everything in 2020, eliminating all chance of a bounce back campaign.
So Serrano had to wait and wait for his chance to get back on the baseball field. He worked hard on his own, spending most of his free time at Retro Fitness in North Arlington, getting ready for his last chance.
“I usually would go before school, early in the morning,” Serrano said. “I worked on the lower half of my body, strengthening my legs. Then after school, I would go to the batting cages to get extra swings. I wanted it to be as good of a season as I could have.”
Kearny head coach Dave Smart knew that his slugger would have a solid senior season.
“I wasn’t sure about what we were walking into this year, but I knew we did have him,” Smart said. “We really couldn’t put a price tag on what Chris meant to us. We just needed him to go in any and every situation.”
Smart vividly recalls the first time he saw Serrano play.
“He was in fifth grade and he came to our summer camp,” Smart said. “He let us know how special he was a long time ago. We actually took Chris and turned him into a counselor. He was just a man among boys at that point.”
Serrano was a 12-year-old helping to instruct kids that were much older. But that’s what Chris Serrano is all about.
Serrano has always been a special young man, an athlete destined for greatness. Sure, he played soccer for a while and was a basketball standout for four years. But everyone understood that baseball was Serrano’s bread and butter, his ticket out to stardom elsewhere.
And here it was, Serrano’s senior campaign, sort of sneaking up on him. He had his future already planned out, having given a verbal commitment to Rowan University to play for the Profs in the fall. But this was his last chance to make his name known in his hometown.
“I definitely felt stronger than ever,” Serrano said. “My legs definitely felt stronger and I was just going to let my hands do all the work with the swing. I just had to focus on my hands.”
Serrano said that he learned everything he needed to know about hitting from his father, Serafin, who once played baseball at Barringer High School in Newark.
“He definitely taught me the right way,” Serrano said.
Well, the right way carried over to the 2021 regular season, where Serrano has basically treated every ball that is pitched to him like it’s a beachball.
In fact, Serrano has been on a tear like no other seen in local baseball in quite some time.
Serrano homered in four straight games against perennial Hudson County powerhouses Memorial and Hudson Catholic. He also homered and drove in four runs in a win over Lincoln and had a homer and three runs scored in a win over Hoboken. For the season, Serrano is batting .555 (15-for-27) with 16 runs scored, 13 RBI, 22 stolen bases and five homers, four of which came in one gigantic power surge last week.
For his efforts, Serrano has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Serrano just wants to finish off the season in strong fashion. The games are down to a precious handful.
“I just want to go out and have fun,” Serrano said. “If you’re not having fun playing baseball, well, you’re not going to play good. I always try to have a smile on my face.”
His grades certainly don’t cause him concern. He owns a 4.3 grade point average that he will take to Rowan, where he plans to study civil engineering.
“I don’t think my parents would have allowed it,” Serrano said.
Mom’s first name is Janet. We met Dad earlier. The Serrano family just drove up to Syracuse, N.Y. last weekend to support Chris’ sister Brianna as she graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in architecture.
. ]]“I’m just going to cherish the rest of the season,” Serrano said. “Then, when I get to college, I hopefully will win the starting shortstop spot. My time in high school just flew by. I’m not going to lie and say that I wasn’t upset about last year. But I managed to cherish it all and make the best of everything.”
With homers in five of six games last week, it looks like he has.
“I’m just mad that it couldn’t make it six of seven,” Serrano said.
That’s certainly a determined young man.
Kearny High School senior shortstop Chris Serrano. Photo by Jim Hague
Learn more about the writer ...
Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”