This Major League Baseball team just became the first to sign a player with autism


Normally when an MLB team signs a player from an independent league to a contract, it doesn’t generate many headlines.

But the signing of Tarik El-Abour by the Kansas City Royals is historic as the former Empire League outfielder is believed to be the first player with autism to be signed by an MLB team, according to Worldwide Baseball Prospects.

The 25-year-old El-Abour has been playing baseball since Little League in San Marino, California.

His mother talked about how his autism affects his preparation for the game.

“That is when I started to see the workings of the autistic mind,” Nadia Khalil told the San Marino Tribune. “I started to see how numbers had a lot to do with how he thinks. Those of us without autism think in concepts; he thinks in numbers. The greater the number of times he did anything, the better he was at it. Just like us.

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“However, the way the numbers worked in his mind went way further than anything I could have yet imagined. He knew he had to practice. He knew he loved it. He told me that when he grew up and played baseball, he would buy me a house wherever he plays, so that I could watch his games live. He did not know yet how different he was. He did not know yet how autism was going to speak for him before he could speak for himself.”

El-Abour played at four different colleges and first turned professional in 2016. That year he joined the Empire League, which is an independent league with teams mostly in the Northeast.

He played for the Sullivan Explorers in 2016 and then the Redbirds in 2017, with both teams located in Upstate New York. El-Abour won the league’s Rookie of the Year award and was also named to the Empire League All-Star team.

El-Abour’s play then garnered him recognition from major league teams, especially the Kansas City Royals. Last year the Royals invited him to take batting practice with the big league club and to throw out the first pitch in a game vs. the Los Angeles Angels.

“Tarik was more worried about throwing the opening pitch than meeting Albert Pujols,” his mother said with a chuckle.

That game was Autism Awareness Night in the ballpark, and the night was special not only to El-Abour but also to a member of the Royals.

Former Royals outfielder Reggie Sanders, who was the fifth member of the 300 home run-300 stolen base club, is a special assistant to the Royals’ baseball operations department and has a brother with autism. Sanders started the Reggie Sanders Foundation to help children and adults with special needs and disabilities.

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Sanders became a mentor to El-Abour, and what started off as simply batting practice ended up with a contract offer.

On April 1, he joined the Royals’ rookie team, where he and his teammates started extended spring training. He is expected to spend the entire 2018 season in the minors, but he has already served as an inspiration to many others with autism or other obstacles in life.

El-Abour has ascended to a level that many thought he could never reach, and he has a message for anyone who’s been doubted or been told that they can’t do something.

“If you feel like you could do something with it, no matter what anyone says, and if you love it, keep working, there’ll be that one ‘yes,'” El-Abour said back in 2016.

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Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009.
Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009 and previously worked for ESPN, CBS and STATS Inc. A native of Louisiana, Ross now resides in Houston.
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