Tarik El-Abour couldn’t speak until he was 6 years old. Instead, he let his baseball bat do the talking for him. Now 25, he’s made history by becoming the first person with autism to sign a professional contract with a minor-league team.

El-Abour, an outfielder who was raised in San Marino, California, was signed by the Kansas City Royals organization on Friday to play in an extended spring training in Surprise, Arizona that helps develop up-and-coming players.

“We see this as an outstanding opportunity for Tarik and our organization,” Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said in a statement. “We are built well for him, we have outstanding coaches, a caring environment and an opportunity to get at-bats in extended spring. Tarik has displayed a work ethic and passion for this game, and he’s been successful. We are about providing opportunity and we embrace diversity and inclusion, so this is a good fit for both Tarik and the Royals.”



A key influence in the signing? None other than Royals front office advisor and former Royals outfielder Reggie Sanders, who started RSFCares to empower individuals with autism and their families, in large part because his 40-year-old brother has the disorder.

“The repetitiveness of autism and the repetitiveness of baseball kind of go hand in hand,” Sanders explained to The Kansas City Star. “It’s great to be able to marry those two.”

El-Abour was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old. Shortly after, he picked up a bat and didn’t look back.

He played college ball at Pacifica College and then Bristol University, where he earned a degree in business administration. Then, he went on to play for independent league teams, even winning the Empire League’s Rookie of the Year award in 2016.

“He’s just a raw player,” Sanders said. “The coaches are all in, in terms of being patient with him, making sure they are very clear … in terms of their language.”

According to Sanders, El-Abour doesn’t realize the trail he’s blazing. He’s laser-focused on the task at hand: winning ball games and developing as a player.

Will he be called up to the majors one day? Time will tell. In the meantime, the blades of grass await his footprints.