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Swift was giddy. When he and Betty stopped by the Balentines' house afterward for beers, the men couldn't stop talking about Jack's feat. "It just seemed like Jack was just as joyous and jubilant as he could be," Betty said.
Usually after the last out the Swifts headed home and went to bed. Jack was a simple man, and he rarely dwelled on a game. It's part of what kept him going all those years. On this night, however, Betty walked out to find him under a large tree whose branches stretched out over their front yard. The night was still warm, the stars were out. Betty sat down next to Jack, and the two stared out into the dark. For what seemed like a lifetime they talked about the game, reliving every moment. Betty could see something different in her husband's eyes. "Mama," he said, "if I haven't never achieved nothing else, I'm happy with tonight."
Word of Swift's deed spread. The Greensboro Daily News named him the North Carolina athlete of the year. There was talk he might rise back up through the minors, which was almost unheard of for a Class D player of his age. His final statistics were staggering. Swift appeared in 52 of Marion's 108 games and was on the mound for the final out for 48. He pitched 287 innings, or one of the Marauders' every three; in 2011, even with a 162-game season, no major leaguer topped 251 innings. Swift finished 30--7 with a 2.54 ERA and 321 strikeouts.
As for the Marauders, many of them figured this was the end of the line. At the end of the season Kluttz wrote a final column that read like an epitaph. One by one he listed the team's stars and what they would do next: Beal would return to Mooresville Mills; catcher Fred Parnell would work at Radio Jayne's Service Station in nearby Morganton; pitcher Bob Thomas would take a job at Shaw Manufacturing Co. in Charlotte; outfielder James Mendenhall would toil for Thomasville Chair Co. As for Swift, he told Kluttz, "I don't know whether I'll pitch again next year or not... . I'll tell my wife in the fall that I'm quitting. Then about February she'll find me out in the yard, tossing a ball against the side of the house.
"'What are you up to?' she'll say.
"'Oh, I thought I'd limber up a little bit,' I'll tell her.
"'Here we go again,' she'll say, and then get ready to pack. She's a great baseball wife, she is. Couldn't be finer."
That winter, during the minor league draft, the announcement of Swift's record created quite a stir. He was drafted by the White Sox's Double A affiliate, the Memphis Chicks. It would be a tremendous jump for a journeyman pitcher in the twilight of his career.
Swift left Marion just in time. In the Marauders' final home game the following year, on June 21, the team raised the 1953 pennant, the one Swift won. Two days later Marion went to Hickory and won 6--0 in the last Tar Heel League game ever.
Across the country similar scenes played out as one franchise after another folded. By 1959 the number of minor leagues nationwide had declined to 21, down from 58 in 1950. Attendance, which had been as high as 42 million in 1949, was barely 12 million. The minors would never be the same. Swift stayed one step ahead of the decline, like the hero in an action movie who sprints along the escarpment as it crumbles behind him.