This past August, Jordan Serena, CC ’15, was in Iowa, sitting in the clubhouse of the Burlington Bees, the Single-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He overheard a teammate mention that Great Britain was assembling a squad for World Baseball Classic qualifiers in September.
Eligible because of his British mother, Serena jumped at the opportunity. About a month later, the former Columbia star returned to New York—this time in Brooklyn representing the Union Jack.
Team GB reached the qualifying final on Sept. 25, with a rematch against Israel set to decide which squad would earn the final spot at the World Baseball Classic.
Israel cruised to 9-1 victory, with Serena finishing 0-for-14 from the plate. But watching on television at home, Columbia baseball head coach Brett Boretti praised Team GB for handing Serena the opportunity to play on the international stage.
“Jordan is very much a once-or-twice in a lifetime guy you’re able to coach,” Boretti reflected. “If we could get a Jordan Serena here in every recruiting class, we’d be good to go. He was so important in building the base of our culture when he was here.”
In his four years with the Lions, Serena played almost every position. He began his collegiate career at second base and shortstop before seeing consistent action in center field during his final two seasons. On offense, the Colorado native’s consistent batting average and baserunning abilities alway kept him near the top of the lineup.
Serena’s collegiate baseball resume reads like one most can only dream of. A three-time league champion with multiple runs in the NCAA World Series, Serena’s time at Columbia coincided with one of the best in program history––something Boretti sees as much more than just a coincidence.
“When he showed up as a freshman, the way he carried himself was not like a freshman at all,” he said. “[He came in] not in an arrogant way, holding guys accountable right from the get go, and I think he’s a big part of why we had so much success during his four years here.”
But no matter how successful a player’s college career is, little can prepare them for the journey through the high intensity maze that is the Minor League Baseball system.
“It’s a grind,” he said. “I graduated and then about three weeks later got drafted and went straight to Arizona, where I was playing everyday for two-and-a-half months basically.”
Taken in the 35th round of the 2015 Draft by the Angels, Serena immediately began “grinding” as a professional player—first for the Arizona Angels before playing with the Orem Owlz. During these two rookie leagues, Serena was able to make an impression.
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Despite posting a .203 batting average for the combined 44 games he played for the Angels and Owlz, his slick defense caught the eye of the Angels organization. His performance earned him a promotion to Burlington, Iowa, where he would play for the Bees.
Early on, Serena featured all over the field. In his first season with the Bees he featured at first base, shortstop, and every position in the outfield, before settling in as the starter at third base for 57 games.
While Serena’s versatility and athletic abilities have always been apparent, the competitive 6-foot-1 utility player finds added motivation to play wherever is needed.
“For Burlington, I kind of played here and there or where the team needed help in the lineup––I enjoy just being that guy that the team can count on,” he said. “In college, I kind of was that a little bit too. It’s just something that’s kind of always been there with me as a competitor.
But even before cementing his starting role at third, many were already impressed with Serena’s game, including Chad Drury, the Bees’ beat writer for “The Hawk Eye.”
“I thought personally that he was probably the most versatile player they had,” Drury said of Serena’s first year with the Bees. “[He was] just a consummate pro, did whatever they needed him to do, worked hard, didn’t make a lot of mistakes, and hit pretty well.”
In his 110 appearances for the Bees, Serena hit .253 and had a .942 fielding percentage at third. But while his on-field play dazzled and he remained a critical player for the Bees day-to-day, once again it was what Serena was doing in the clubhouse and off the field that Drury commented on the most.
“[The manager] said [Serena] was a consummate baseball player and had good clubhouse presence,” Drury said. “The clubhouse was very good, and I think Serena, really being a veteran of the clubhouse all year, really was a big part of that.”
It was towards the end of the season when Serena first learned about Team GB. After sending over-season statistics and contacting Team GB Manager Liam Carroll, Serena found himself returning to New York City with a new opportunity in front of him––looking to claim the last spot in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Half of the team arrived about five days before the start of the final qualifying round as members waited on the remaining players, who were playing in a European Championship game, to arrive. Two days before the opener, and all together, Team GB and Serena were finally able to get to work and start establishing a team dynamic.
The team went 2-2 overall, as Israel denied Great Britain a spot in the classic. After starting at first base all tournament but going 0-14 from the plate, Serena was both disappointed and excited for the future of British baseball.
“I didn’t really play up to my standards in the tournament, so I’m really looking forward to playing with them again and showing them what I can do,” he said. “It was an awesome group of guys.”
With the qualifier and his first season in Single-A behind him, Serena now focuses on his next set of goals as the off season grind of workouts, hitting, and defensive drills begin in anticipation for next season.
Boretti is optimistic about the path Serena is on, particularly in the way Serena has approached the game since his early days in Morningside Heights.
“The one thing that’s definite about Jordan is that he is going about is business the right way,” he said. “From that standpoint, I can’t imagine that there are many who are more impressive than him with the way he goes about things “
Drury is even more hopeful, saying that he doesn’t expect to see Serena back in Burlington anytime soon after impressing in just his first year with the Bees. But regardless of the outcome, Serena remains humble and willing to do whatever is necessary to continue rising.
“Next season is about as far as I’ll look ahead,” he said. “Hoping to play High-A...[and] just looking to get to the next level with the Angels. But that’s about it—I can’t control that. Just trying to stay in shape and look ahead to spring training.”