Baltimore Orioles

Orioles rookie Richie Martin's grandfather played with Jackie Robinson. On Monday, he wears Robinson's number

On Jackie Robinson's first and only Opening Day in the Negro Leagues, he hit third and played shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs.

Batting second in right field that day was Walter "Bancy" Thomas, whose grandson, Orioles shortstop Richie Martin, will be wearing Robinson's No. 42 on Monday on baseball's annual day of remembrance for the player who broke the color barrier.


Thomas, Martin's grandfather on his mother Deborah's side, broke in with the Monarchs in 1936 and played for the Detroit Stars and St. Louis Stars in 1937. He returned to the Monarchs in 1944 for two seasons as their everyday right fielder.

In the second of those seasons, 1945, Robinson joined a Monarchs club that also included Hall of Fame pitchers Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith. While Paige went on to join Robinson in the major leagues, Robinson breaking baseball's racial barrier on April 15, 1947, changed the game.


His No. 42 was retired across baseball in 1997, and in 2004, baseball began celebrating the anniversary of his debut by having all players and coaches wear No. 42 that day.

Martin knows the connection is one worth recognizing.

"It's awesome," Martin said. "My dad has always made me read up on Jackie Robinson and just the influence he's had on me obviously, as a person of color, but just the game. I've seen this day on TV so many times, and it's kind of cool to wear that patch, be able to wear those socks with his number on it. It's really empowering, and a pretty cool day.

"I watched baseball growing up my whole life, so I've always seen it on TV — ESPN, MLB Network—always seeing 42. You got to every stadium, you see that 42 in big, bold letters somewhere in the stadium. It's a really important day, so it's going to be cool to be a part of it."

Thomas made three more stops in the Negro Leagues after he left Kansas City, playing for the Memphis Red Sox and Chicago American Giants in 1946 and the Birmingham Black Barons in 1947. He followed Robinson across baseball's color divide and played for Wilkes Barre of the Eastern League in 1948.

Martin isn't the only Orioles player for whom Monday's celebration is meaningful. Reliever Mychal Givens won the 2008 Jackie Robinson Award as the best high school player in the country.