*In lieu of the 2021 NCAA D1 baseball season starting this past weekend, I’d like to revisit my interview with California State University, Northridge baseball coach Dave Serrano.
New Matadors Baseball Head Coach Dave Serrano is a highly respected, experienced winner at the NCAA Division I level. Serrano was appointed in June 2019 to lead the program, continuing his legacy of coaching in the Big West Conference and at the highest level of collegiate baseball.
His resume is impressive, having coached at schools such as Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine and Tennessee. Serrano was named the 2010 Big West Coach of the Year while at Fullerton, as well as Baseball America’s Assistant Coach of the Year in 2004 as Fullerton’s pitching coach — the same year the team won the National Championship. Serrano has brought with him new talent, on the coaching staff and roster, most of whom have deep ties to Southern California baseball. As one of only 12 coaches in college baseball history to take two different schools to the College World Series — Fullerton and Irvine — Serrano has high hopes for his promising CSUN Baseball team, in 2020 and beyond.
Q: What does it mean for you to lead the Matadors Baseball team here at CSUN, as the 10th head coach in the university’s history?
Serrano: It’s an honor. I’m excited about being in the Big West, because I’ve had success in the Big West. And I know there are programs that we are trying to catch. I wouldn’t have accepted this job if I didn’t feel that, with where we’re located and with the talent we can attract to this university, this is an opportunity for us to take this program [to] the upper echelon of the Big West each and every year. There’s no reason CSUN shouldn’t be at that level, because of where we’re located and what we have to offer academically.
Q: What have you and the Matador team been doing since you started your tenure on June 24?
Serrano: We’ve tried to build the standard and the culture of what we want this program to be about. One of my vows to this team when I took it over was that our goal was to graduate each and every player as student-athletes and develop them to have an opportunity to play at the next level. I didn’t talk about winning — I’m pretty sure they assume that’s what we’re here for. But my job as their mentor is to see them succeed in school and graduate, and to succeed in baseball. My promise to them was that, as a coaching staff, we were going to teach them why certain puzzle pieces fit in certain spots to make a good baseball team, how we practice every day, the speed we practice at, and what it’s going to take to be successful in the Big West and around the country. They’ve taken that and run with it.
Q: What is your focus for the players, and going forward, what’s your team-building philosophy?
Serrano: I think you said it — it’s all about the team. It’s not about me. It’s not about my coaching staff. It’s not about which player ends up being the best at something. These guys are my players. They’re my family now. It’s always about playing hard, and representing the university with respect, to the highest degree every single day they get the opportunity to be a student-athlete at Cal State Northridge.
Q: What hopeful and positive changes do you plan to bring into the baseball culture here? Any fresh approaches to the game?
Serrano: The first changes are material things. Our players have noticed that we have a new playing surface now. The last time that was done on that field was 21 years ago. We’re getting new uniforms, with a little different look. Part of my plan when I took this job was that I wanted to allow players more opportunity for success, but bring a certain level of class to it as well — not just the way we play, but how we and how our facility looks when fans and youth baseball teams visit. I commend our administration here in Athletics for the fact that they’ve committed to allowing us opportunities to make this program better. The next step is to build the program from within — a nice playing surface and better uniforms don’t make you win. We have to develop our players and allow them to show their successes on the field.
Q: What are your expectations for the 2020 season?
Serrano: The expectation right out of the gate is always wanting to compete for a championship. I took this job to help CSUN compete for a Big West championship.
Q: What makes this team ready to handle the 2020 season and the tough schedule in the Big West?
Serrano: It’s the camaraderie that I see amongst these guys. There’s been very little drama. These guys have done everything we’ve asked them to do and done it at a high level. We played two scrimmage games back in the fall, and they performed pretty well. The season will dictate a lot. You learn a lot about your team right out of the gate — how they’re going to react under the lights at another field or in a game situation when the umpire says, “play ball.” But I feel there’s a bond and a closeness, and a trust between these guys and the coaching staff. It’s about developing and enjoying the process and watching this team grow. And as the team grows, the program will grow.
Q: What does baseball mean to you?
Serrano: Life — it’s been a big part of my life. I share this with recruits and their families all the time: I believe why I love baseball so much is because it’s very similar to life. You can have a great day at the plate and be 0-for-4 in the scorebook. You can get knocked to your knees sometimes, but it’s just about winning the next pitch. All the good, challenging things that I’ve gone through in baseball have, I think, built my character as a person. But what I’m very thankful for is the fact that growing up not being a great player — but continuing to persevere and push and work hard — allowed me to be a coach. That’s allowed me to have, hopefully, a positive impact on many kids’ and young men’s lives. I’ve been able to share in a lot of great travel around the country and around the world — and see a lot of players prosper not just in Major League Baseball, but in life too.