In s12, a few new teams (and one old team) dropped into the ILB. Obviously the most important of these was the Core Mechanics, but there were also some other guys too. The Core Mechanics did not have great pitching. Their highest starred pitcher was Torus McGhee, and in an ILB which massively favoured ruth, Torus’s 0.57 was just… not up to par. Most of the rest seemed to also have decided that throwing strikes was for losers. All apart from one little pitcher named Jolene Willowtree. 

Now, looking at things from a pure star-count perspective, Jolene was not the worst. Quinns Jespersen, soon to be shadowed without ever taking their turn on the mound, had that honour. But Jolene definitely had the second least pitching stars on the Mechs. And so, someone in s12 hearing a vague prophecy of an all-star Mechs rotation featuring just one of the original five wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that it might feature Torus, or maybe Doc Anice. But mostly they might just wonder why the Mechs were deciding to focus on pitching since, really, none of these players looked that promising. 

And then Zoey Kirchner and Polkadot Patterson showed up at the start of s13 and Doc and Quinns were gone and, well, the Mechs had their stars and Jolene Willowtree was definitely not expected to be on the list. To cap it all off, Jaylen Hotdogfingers showed up part way through only to quickly be replaced by Mindy Kugel and, well, overall, by the end of s13 the Mechs had future stars in Zoey, Mindy, and Shirai, and one could be forgiven for wondering what exactly the value of your Jolenes or Tori were. 

Then… we noticed something interesting. s13 ERA Torus McGhee: 5.71, ERA Jolene Willowtree: 4.33. because Jolene might not have had the stars, but they had the ruth. Still, they was the worst performing pitcher on the roster in s14 and so we debated and debated and decided to take a leap of faith. s14 elections – the Mechanics vote to infuse Jolene Willowtree.

And it was worth it. They nearly halved their ERA between s14 and s15, though wouldn’t start winning more games than they lost until s16 (Mechs were… still bad). But they’d never post an ERA greater than 3.5 for the remainder of their career. Jolene might’ve been a certified ‘solid pitcher’, even with just 3.6 stars, but this certainly wasn’t their peak. They, along with the rest of the rotation, would continue to improve off the backs of the weak line-up – leapfrogging off their poor scores to crash land in partytime. 

Jolene was keeping up with the rest, though was by no means a particular standout (not on a team featuring an early-expansion-era Zoey Kirchner.) Impressive, given how much lower a base they’d started on than the rest. And then the s16 elections. And then Zoey went to Dallas. And then days into s17, Mindy Kugel was sent to the line-up. Suddenly, the rotation that hadn’t had an ERA above 2.8 in s16 was gutted, shredded, and promptly fell to pieces. 

Polkadot Patterson was back and was here to win exactly four games. Somehow. Bottles Suljak was here to win one! Mindy was batting, Shirai and Jolene were having rough-ish seasons, Kofi Gildehaus came out of the shadows for five minutes and then got shoved right back in there. But most stressful of all, Jaylen Hotdogfingers was about to arrive, and the battered corpse of the Core Mechanics shuddered at the thought of losing another pitcher. and so they hatched a plan. 

Jolene had stuck around from day one, had fought and struggled and partied their way into keeping up with some of the best pitching rolls in the league and we were not sending them to Yellowstone. But what could we do? We looked at our shadows and there we saw Kelvin Andante. And we looked at the Magic and we smiled and we said woe, Kandante be upon ye.

Of course, the best laid schemes o’ Mechs an’ men gang aft a-gley. In this case, it was because Jaylen feedbacked to the Core for recent fax target Cravel Gesundheit and the Mechs blinked, smiled and said ‘hardly knew ya’ and were very happy to know that Jolene wouldn’t be going anywhere.

But there was that pesky matter of all those votes that had been cast for one Kelvin Andante. ‘If it happens it won’t matter’, we said. ‘Kandante will just fax’, we said. ‘Jolene will be back in a few games’, we said. Ah, sweet hubris.

Because of course Kelvin didn’t fax and the Mechs had to struggle our way into qualifying for the playoffs with the ghost of Jolene Willowtree looming ominously over our shoulders as we looked at a world with none of our original pitchers and decided we didn’t like it very much.

I could go on for hours about the emotions of realizing we were going to the playoffs, and we were going with Jolene. About realizing that we had bats now, that we had three good pitchers and we had our last surviving original rotation member, the one who’d survived all the turbulence and change since the Breach, and we were going to the playoffs. And we just might have a chance of winning this thing.

And Jolene, like an unstoppable whirlwind of flying strikes and righteous fury at being stuck on the bench for most of the season, steamrolled their way through the playoffs. 4-0, ERA of 1.00, made every single start. Jolene showed up to the s18 playoffs and they came to win, and win we did, in an epic final game vs the Flowers featuring an immaculate inning and the Flowers only swinging the bat once in the bottom of 9th (a ground out, after two strikes looking).

Season 19 was, of course, strange for a lot of pitchers. Jolene, who relied massively on ruth, would see a bit of a performance dip, though evidently was able to keep up – breaking into in the top five pitchers for strikeouts, strike percentage, strikeouts per nine innings, walk percentage, strikeout-to-walk ratio and walks per nine innings. They still had the ruth and still knew how to use it, even in a rebalanced game. 

Season 19 was, of course, strange for the Mechanics. In that our entire line-up got swept elsewhere with, of course, the exception of one of our worst batters, one Kelvin Drumsolo. Or should I say, many Kelvin Drumsolo. Now, this might have passed by as something cool for our hitherto overlooked bats but unremarkable for our hitherto feared rotation. If it was not for s19d69. Or, as I like to call it, the Drumfinale. Notable for such events as Kelvin Drumsolo hits a triple, Kelvin Drumsolo scores, Kelvin Drumsolo scores and, of course, Kelvin Drumsolo scores. But also notable because Jolene Willowtree pitched a shutout. Leaving them with the record with the largest shutout by total runs scored (the weather being black hole), something which they maintain to this day by .1 of a run because Expansion Era is… just like that.

And it was with this that the Mechanics made their way into s20. I don’t know, not much happened. We won, which was cool. Jolene had an ERA of 2.07 and moved up from top 5 of anything strikeout related to top 3. S21 was similar – they pitched lots of strikes and not a lot of walks and the world turned on. Zoey was back, several seasons and one allergic reaction later, and Jolene was now definitely the better pitcher in the hearts of the Mechs. We didn’t win that one, and we went to the elections determined to turn things around in s22.

Then disaster struck. Gia Holbrook, Mira Lemma, Cannonball Sports, Christian Combs, Mindy Kugel. Our batters couldn’t bat, our pitcher couldn’t pitch. Polkadot Patterson was gone, again, having failed to ever hit anything for the Core Mechanics and Kelvin Drumsolo was now theoretically our star batter and basically Jolene was all we had left and oh did we cling to him. Season 22 was, for want of a better word, rough. We didn’t even make the underbracket. Jolene posted their highest ERA since s13 and they weren’t even in the top 5 for strike stuff, they were barely scraping top eight! (Curse you Plasma replicas)

Jolene chose violence (sippies (pitching)) against Don Mitchell in s21. This was followed up by parties over s22 and s23, as well as being sent to the shadows for another bad pitcher (Ilane Snart) (who, unlike Kelvin Andante, knew that fax evasion is a crime). All these improvements meant that the Jolene Willowtree who showed up to the end of the world combination rave and god slaying was a rather different beast to the one who had seen their team torn to shreds in season 21. 

The Mechs had been through the ringer, emotionally and performance-ally. We’d gone from being the untouchable top of the league to a middling team, struggling to balance high path and too few talented bats with our surfeit of star pitchers (to the point where we were just giving them bats, shrugging, and saying ‘have at it’). 

But this was it. The final chance for Jolene Willowtree to prove their worth. One last strikeout frenzy before the world ended. And, honestly, I think they did it. An ERA of 1.4 (no underhanded), a WHIP of 0.693, an amount of shutouts that was probably really high but it’s sort of hard to know because s24. And Mild being Mild, we also had several games against the magnified Magic leading to even Jolene being faxed out, giving them the push they needed to finally break 2.0 ruth, the only pitcher to do so. They’d be back two days later and watch the end of the Era as the last pitcher standing of the descension five.

Look, there are pitchers who had better careers. There are pitchers who had better beginnings, hell Jolene’s played with Zoey Kirchner and Polkadot Patterson and Jaylen Hotdogfingers. But Jolene set their sights high, and they have done nothing but improve, season upon season. Maybe s24 was a ridiculous, chaos season, but it was Jolene’s season and my god did they put on a show for us. 

Never set back, never put down, never stopped. Jolene Willowtree is a pitcher who shot for the moon and landed among the stars. 

In the end it’s your vote and your choice, but this ballot: consider Jolene? Thank you.

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