This year, of course, Span did not have to request it. Every Major League player was required to wear it, in accordance with Commissioner Bud Selig's plan. Span, the Twins' starting left fielder against Toronto on Wednesday night and one of the team's two African-American players, couldn't wait to put it on.
"It means a lot," he said. "If it wasn't for that number, there's a good possibility myself and a lot of other players -- not just African-Americans, but Latins and all minorities -- we wouldn't be playing this game today if it wasn't for him."
Young, who did not start Wednesday night, took it a step further. "He did a lot for the game," Young said of Robinson. "It brought people who probably never watched baseball to watch baseball, to see a person succeed in a game they weren't supposed to succeed at, at that time."
In a pregame ceremony, following a Robinson tribute on the Metrodome video boards, the Twins honored four Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars:
• Tasha Byers, a senior at the University of St. Thomas with a double major in political science and Spanish. The daughter of a sharecropper, Byers plans to pursue a graduate degree at the London School of Economics.
• Marcus Cox, a sophomore architecture major at the University of Minnesota who was raised by a disabled single foster parent.
• Lorna Her Many Horses, a member of South Dakota's Rosebud Sioux tribe and a freshman music education/music therapy major at Minnesota.
• Charles West, a sophomore graphic design major at Minnesota.
Jennifer Smith of Innovated Business Solutions, which was also honored as the Twins' most valuable diverse business partner, threw out a first pitch to Jerry White, the Twins' lone African-American coach.
Span, who grew up in Tampa, Fla., said he learned about Robinson from watching television.
"I basically watched documentaries on ESPN and HBO about what he had to go through, being the only African-American at that time, hearing all the name-calling, even by his own teammates a little bit," Span said. "He had to be a strong individual to get through that. Some people are still struggling with racism today, and that was what, 60 years ago?
"He was an angel sent from God, I feel. Not that many people could go through what he went through. Because of him, I'm here today."
Pat Borzi is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.