COLUMBIA — Like clockwork, during the top half inning of every Missouri home softball game, assistant coach Pete D’Amour emerges from the shadows of the dugout. Lining up against the dugout fence, he cheers on the Tigers, blending in with the rest of the team.
But during the bottom half of the innings, he is buried in the back corner of the dugout closest to home plate, cloaking himself in its darkness, signaling Tigers catchers, influencing the speed, spin and location of each ball hurled by a Missouri pitcher.
No. 11 Missouri (28-5, 7-2) begins a three-game series against No.3-ranked Texas at 7 p.m. Thursday in Austin.
The Longhorns (31-2, 5-0 Big 12), who are riding a nine-game winning steak, have a Big 12-leading offense that is hitting .73 points higher than the third-place Tigers (.295).
Missouri will counter Texas' bats with All-American Chelsea Thomas (14-3) who is expected to pitch Game 1 Thursday and Game 3 on Saturday.
D’Amour is the Missouri pitching coach, and he calls every Tigers pitch, giving him authority over half of every softball game. His diligent pattern of fading into the black of the dugout, a common tactic used to avoid having signs intercepted by an opponent, is just one example of D'Amour's careful coaching style that tries to provide his pitchers with any edge he can.
D’Amour has a lot of responsibilities. Along with serving as the pitching coach, he is also the catching coach, recruiting coordinator and schedule maker for the Tigers. But six years ago, D’Amour wasn’t responsible for much more than himself.
His road to becoming an official member of the Tigers coaching staff began 12 years ago in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he was a 19-year-old infielder playing college baseball. One of the assistant coaches he played for was current Missouri softball coach, Ehren Earleywine.
“He was 27, and I was 19, but we had about five guys that really kept in contact,” D’Amour said. “We’d go out and shoot pool and stuff, and he (Earleywine) was still straight-laced back then, but he was always a fun guy to hang out with.”
But D'Amour eventually strayed from baseball because of family issues. He dropped out of college to take care of those issues and said he lost his passion for baseball and was unsure what he wanted to do with his life.
At age 22, D’Amour made a decision that at the time seemed small but probably had a bigger impact on his professional life than any decision he had made before. He decided to return to fast-pitch softball, a sport he had been introduced to as a child serving as batboy for his father’s team.
The decision paid off for D'Amour about four years later. By that time he was a fast-pitch star, and his next tournament was in Atlanta.
Earleywine was living in Atlanta, where he was head coach for the Georgia Tech softball team. Based on their established friendship, D’Amour asked Earleywine if he could stay with him while he was in Georgia. Earleywine said yes, but when he picked up D’Amour from the airport, he had two important questions.
"He said, ‘What are you doing with your life?’ and I said 'Well I’m going back to school, and I know I want to coach,'" D’Amour said. "And he was like 'I just got hired at Mizzou yesterday, so I’m leaving tomorrow. Do you want to come be my BP (batting practice) pitcher and finish up school?'"
D'Amour didn't hestitate. "I (went back home) loaded up my truck, and I never left (Missouri softball),” he said.
He enrolled at MU and served as volunteer assistant coach for Earleywine’s softball teams, throwing batting practice every day until he "trashed" his arm. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 2008, and after four years as an unpaid volunteer, he was named an official member of the Missouri softball coaching staff in 2009.
“I was a volunteer coach eating Ramen noodles every day,” D’Amour said. "Shoot, I wasn’t getting paid. I know a lot of guys had to pay their dues starting at like a (junior college) or (intercollegiate team). I’m kind of fortunate because I paid my dues here, and I got to stay here. I didn't have to work up the levels, you know. I’m very blessed that happened."
And so are the Tigers. Since D’Amour became an official coach at Missouri, the team has reached the Women's College World Series three seasons in a row. The 2011 pitching staff had a collective 1.40 ERA, the lowest of any Tigers team since 1998.
This season has been no different. D’Amour’s pitchers have taken advantage of every edge he has given them. The Tigers staff is among the Big 12’s best with a miniscule 1.07 ERA with 256 strikeouts, both good for second in the conference trailing only Oklahoma.
And anchoring D’Amour’s staff this season is Missouri star Chelsea Thomas, who is having another outstanding season, striking out almost 10 hitters per game and dominating competition with a 0.58 ERA.
D'Amour does everything he can to ready his pitchers for their opponents. From the pregame analyzing of scouting reports on opposing players, to the mid-inning amending of a preconceived game plan, D’Amour is constantly adjusting to the changes of the game.
"You've got to be on top of it, because one bad pitch, and you're done," D'Amour said.
For D’Amour, pitch selection is about careful management of all the variables. He takes what he sees from the batters during the game including stance, swing and even pitches taken, and he weighs those with the firsthand accounts his pitchers are relaying to him from their experiences on the mound, something his pitchers appreciate.
“He’s awesome about taking in our feedback,” Thomas said. “It’s hard to find coaches that don’t have the ego that say, oh-no I’m right. If we see something, we can go back to him and adjust for the next batter. I feel like he trusts us and what we see out there, and we definitely trust him. Having that relationship really helps us a lot.”
Senior pitcher Kristin Nottelmann complemented D'Amour on his ability to keep things lighthearted when games get intense.
"Our (relationship) is goofy at times, and other times when something is not working, you tell him what you want to throw," Nottelmann said. "It's very back and forth. (But) being here for four years, we kind of built that relationship where we can do that."
D'Armour relationships have benefited him personally and professionally. He certainly seems to have the trust of his top two pitchers, and it's abundantly clear that with the amount of responsibility he has been asked to shoulder, he has Earleywine's trust, too.