** Originally published on October 16, 2015

Heather Tarr settled into one side of a wooden picnic table. Under the shade of a large, leafy tree that helped block the summer sun, Washington’s softball coach thought about the past.

Behind the coach, one of the Everest Park little league diamonds sat empty. This field, the park and people who played there, helped mold the coach into the person she is today. Her journey is intertwined with Washington softball. Her growth runs parallel to the program she coaches.

At this particular moment, though, she is thinking about someone else, someone she has never met, but shares something in common. Returning to this field brought back memories that go back to her childhood, but right now she is focused on Mo’ne Davis, the first girl to record a win and pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series.

“Every time I watched her, it brought tears to my eyes,” Tarr said.

When Davis was pitching, it was as if she provided a conduit that connected Tarr to her past.

“Oh my gosh, that was me back then,” she would think to herself. “Kind of a League-of-Their-Own-type thing. When she was pitching, she was the person every guy on the team looked to for leadership and performance.

“I wasn’t as good as Davis. I didn’t pitch like her, but I know I had similar experiences. Looking at her and knowing what that experience is going to do for her when she’s 20 and 30 and 40 years old, I’m empowered by that.”

Back when Tarr played baseball, her team never made it to Williamsport, Pa. for the Little League World Series. Things were different back then.

But her District 9 All-Star team did make it all the way to West Regional in San Bernardino, Calif. And, after thinking about Davis’ experience, Tarr turned the spotlight on herself.

“Playing baseball and being the only girl on every team I was on was a pretty cool experience,” she said. “I didn’t realize it at the time but, looking back on it, I know I get a lot of my confidence from that, knowing I hit home runs off guys when I was 10 and 12 years old.”

Her little league coach, Tom D’Amico, always made sure none of her teammates treated her poorly because she was a girl. One of her teammates, Jeff D’Amico – now her brother-in-law – pitched in the big leagues. And her husband, J.T. D’Amico, well, at the time he was the older brother who would throw batting practice.

“I never thought I would marry him, but he was always this fascinating person growing up,” Tarr said.

Baseball and softball have been as much a part of her personal life as her athletic and coaching career for as long as she can remember.

“Things keep bringing me back,” Tarr said with a smile.

Tarr played at Everest Park in high school. She returns to the field each year for the Junior Softball World Series.

“I try to be present, not only to help softball and its growth, but because there’s a lot that goes on here at the 13- and 14-year-old level that I think is cool,” Tarr said.

When Tarr was growing up, she never planned on playing softball. Not in high school. Not in college. Her goal was to become the first woman to play Major League Baseball.

“Those things just didn’t exist,” she said.

However, by the time Tarr was preparing for college, Washington launched its softball program. The Huskies’ first season was in 1993. Teresa Wilson quickly converted the Huskies into a contender with Tarr joining the program in its second year.

“Title IX is the impetus behind a lot of the opportunities we’ve had in softball,” Tarr said. “For kids to be able to grow up looking at college softball as something they want to do at young ages is just beyond what I can comprehend, because it just didn’t even exist.”

Tarr was instrumental in helping form the program first as a player and now as its coach. The Huskies have been to the Women’s College World Series 11 times, winning a national championship in 2009.

The program has grown steadily, matching the sport’s development stride for stride.

“I take a lot of pride in knowing the history and tradition of the whys and whatfores and how the program was founded,” Tarr said.

She has spent her coaching career working to build Washington into a destination program, a place “where people want to come play.”

“One of the amazing skills coach Tarr has is her daily outlook. She’s constantly evolving as a coach; always learning and coming up with new ideas,” said Jenn Salling, starting shortstop on the Huskies’ 2009 national champion team and current graduate assistant. "She’s extremely proactive and never stays stagnant, which helps us stay ahead of the curve."

To keep the Huskies competitive, Washington’s athletic department has committed to keeping the program’s facilities on the cutting edge, competitive with the top schools across the country.

“We’re willing to invest the money to help grow our program and continue to see us succeed,” Tarr said. “It’s important about Washington. It’s different than most schools. Scott Woodward wants us to succeed and he knows we need certain improvements and upgrades to continue to grow our program."

A new video board will be added to the Husky Softball Stadium in time for Washington’s first home tournament in the spring. There are also plans to increase seating and cover the stadium’s batting cages, so players can have a facility open to players 24 hours a day.

“The growth of softball at Washington is very similar to that of the SEC,” Tarr said. “Now with some of the new improvements to our stadium, it’s similar to the growth that you’re seeing around the country.”

The team has raised money to improve its locker room and increase its footprint on the university’s athletic village.

But the Washington commitment to softball extends beyond improvements to the program’s facilities. The university has also committed to its head coach. Tarr recently signed an 11-year extension, giving her more job security than any coach in the country.

"It’s remarkable to see how much Heather has done for the sport of softball, and specifically for the Husky program,” Stephanie Rempe, Senior Associate Director of Athletics and Husky softball sport administrator said. "She is a true leader among her peers and is constantly searching for ways to innovate and do things better. She has mastered a delicate balance of holding a deep and profound respect for the history, tradition and growth of the game alongside a relentless drive to keep innovating and pushing to make the Husky program and the sport of softball the very best it can be.”

In a sport that is now forecasting recruits up to eight years before they arrive on campus, knowing Tarr has a long-term future with the Huskies’ is crucial for the coach, her staff and their recruiting efforts.

“That’s pretty cool for the University of Washington to support our program in that way by trying to retain me and keep me in a place where I can be here and do well,” she said. “We have the confidence to say, ‘Look, Washington’s not messing around, it’s supporting our program. The university wants us to be here. It doesn’t want us anywhere else.’”

Tarr believes Washington has a program poised to “really go for it.” With a history of success, the university’s support and facilities that rival any program in the country, the Huskies have the infrastructure to be among the nation’s top teams every year.

As the sport continues to grow, Washington grows with it.

“Softball is just scratching the surface in terms of what it can do as a sport in the nation and in the world,” Tarr said. “Washington sees that and wants to support what we’re doing.”

When Tarr was a child, she never planned to play softball. It wasn’t an option. Now the Women’s College World Series is televised nationally. Girls can grow up with a dream to follow in the footsteps of softball stars they have seen compete at the highest level.

Tarr is proud to be a part of that growth, excited about what the future holds. She continues to encourage younger generations of girls follow in her footsteps and try baseball, knowing those who pursue that path will have the skills necessary to one day play softball.

Sitting outside the stadium that helped spark a passion that endures, Tarr waxed nostalgic about the memories and moments that set the foundation for the coach she has become.

In Washington, she was Mo’ne Davis before Mo’ne Davis, a trailblazer of sorts, someone pursued, and fulfilled, a dream. Seeing the young standout succeed at the highest level stirred emotions in Tarr. It brought tears to her eyes.

As a coach, she is in a position to help fulfill college dreams. It is a responsibility she cherishes. It all started on a little league diamond, a field that continues to connect her past and present.