On most days, an announcement by a major league team of the signing of a 25-year-old outfielder to a minor league contract would not make headlines, but Friday’s move by the Royals was not like most signings.
Tarik El-Abour was diagnosed with autism at age 3 and it would be another three years before he would speak. Now he is in the Royals’ farm system, believed to be the first player with autism signed to a minor league contract.
We have signed outfielder Tarik El-Abour to a minor league contract. El-Abour has handled the challenges presented by autism now earning the opportunity to become a professional baseball player. His signing announcement coincides with tonight's Autism Awareness Night. pic.twitter.com/qzb7ACmXqm— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) April 13, 2018
El-Abour played baseball in college and in the independent Empire League, where he was named rookie of the year in 2016 after hitting .323. He came to the attention of Kansas City through Royals special advisor Reggie Sanders, who is active in the autism community; Sanders has a brother with autism. El-Abour has been in extended spring training with the Royals.
El-Abour received the news from his mother, Nadia, and as you might imagine, it was greeted with much joy.
"Nadia told me he just started walking from wall to wall," Sanders told Royals.com. "He kept saying he can't believe this is happening. He kept saying, 'All I ever wanted was to play baseball.'"
The Royals did not announce where El-Abour will play next, but the Royals have two Rookie League affiliates — Burlington (Appalachian League) and Idaho Falls (Pioneer).