"I wish I could've met him," Thomas said on Wednesday. "He did so much for African-Americans in this game and Latinos. Jackie was a strong man and a proud man -- what courage and character he had."
In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, paving the way for African-American players like Thomas to have a future in the big leagues.
On Jackie Robinson Day on Tuesday, Thomas and Blue Jays teammates Vernon Wells and Shannon Stewart will slip on Toronto jerseys with No. 42 on the back, honoring the legacy that Robinson left behind.
"It's my second time wearing it. It's an honor," said Thomas, who had the opportunity of meeting Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel, and their daughter, Sharon, years ago when the designated hitter was with the White Sox.
"That was great," Thomas said. "For his daughter, just to hear stories about how courageous a dad he was and what he had to go through -- it was tough."
Introduced in 2004, Jackie Robinson Day was created to honor the enduring impact of Jackie Robinson, who played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, with the Dodgers. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Robinson breaking the Major League color barrier in 1997, Robinson's uniform No. 42 was retired throughout the Major Leagues.
Robinson's memory lives on today in initiatives such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by Rachel Robinson in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources.
Another initiative, Breaking Barriers, utilizes baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history, in addition to addressing critical issues of character development, such as conflict resolution and self-esteem.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.