KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tarik El-Abour was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old and didn’t speak until he was six. But he fell in love with baseball at the age of five, and at 25, he signed a minor league contract with the Royals.
The routines and repeated rituals of the grand old game gave El-Abour a sense of comfort and unbridled joy.
“Baseball and autism are very similar in terms of discipline and repetitiveness,” former Royals player and team special adviser Reggie Sanders said. “It kind of goes hand-in-hand. It’s a beautiful thing when it can marry together.”
Sanders has a brother on the autism spectrum and launched a foundation to spread awareness about the condition.
So Sanders took special note of El-Abour, who is from California, when he threw out the first pitch on the Royals Autism Awareness Night last year. El Abour also took batting and fielding practice with the team, and his talent caught Sanders' attention.
“He did so well it had my wheels spinning,” Sanders said. “Like, ‘Man this guy’s hitting with the team like he’s one of the guys.'"
Sanders made a point to keep an eye on El-Abour, who played semi-pro baseball in an independent league last year.
Then earlier this spring, Sanders decided he had to convince the Royals front office to sign the 25-year-old to a minor league contract with the franchise.
It’s believed to be the first time an adult with autism signed a contract with a Major League Baseball franchise.
Sanders described how El-Abour’s mother reacted to the news.
“When she called me back, she said, ‘Reggie, you have no idea. My son is literally walking from one wall to the other. He just can’t believe this is really happening.'”
El-Abour will work with the Royals in rookie league games at the team’s extended spring training in Surprise, Arizona.
No one can say whether or not El-Abour will ever make the Royals big-league roster, but many believe he already hit a home run for anyone living with autism.