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Kansas City Royals Sign First Professional Baseball Player with Autism

The 25-year-old signed a minor league contract.

Empire Pro League; Flickr/Erik Drost

Minor leaguer Tarik El-Abour has faced his share of challenges as a rising baseball star with autism. But after signing with the Kansas City Royals, he’s set to become the first autistic professional player in MLB history. El-Abour recently signed a contract with the team for the 2018 season, making him the first pro baseball player to be public about having the disorder.

El-Abour spent the last two seasons as an outfielder playing in the independent Empire League, where he was named rookie of the year in 2016. He started out playing baseball as a kid in San Marino, California, where his mother quickly picked up on his passion.

“He knew he had to practice. He knew he loved it,” she told the San Marino Tribune last year. “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.”

According to Royals Review, El-Abour went on to play baseball at a number of colleges and eventually signed with the independent Empire League. There he won Rookie of the Year in 2016 while playing for the Sullivan Explorers. His stats are impressive: a batting average of .323. Batting with the Plattsburgh Red Birds, his average was .240.

After winning a championship with the Plattsburgh Red Birds last year, El-Abour was asked to throw out the first pitch for a Royals/Angels game in Kansas City for Autism Awareness Night. Coaches took notice and now the young player was signed to their farm team. El-Abour certainly has a long fight ahead to make his way into the majors. But making it onto a minor league team is no small feat.

It’s estimated that about one percent of the world’s population has autism, so seeing someone like El-Abour succeed in such a high-profile setting is empowering for so many.