(CBS Local) — Tarik El-Abour is not a Major League Baseball player yet, but his signing by the Kansas City Royals marks a historic first for the national pastime.
After signing a minor league contract in early March, El-Abour is believed to be the first pro baseball player on the autism spectrum. The California native’s mother says her son has always envisioned this day, even before he understood that he was autistic.
“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,” Nadia Khalil told the San Marino Tribune. “He told me that when he grew up and played baseball, he would buy me a house wherever he plays… 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’s journey started in college, where the outfielder played for four different universities but ultimately went undrafted by all 30 MLB teams after finishing school. Not discouraged, El-Abour signed on to play in the independent leagues where he spent 2016 and 2017 with the Empire Pro League.
“He has been a champion every year he has stepped foot on an Empire League field,” league VP Jerry Gonzalez said in a press release. “His mindset is set on one goal and that’s Major League Baseball. We believed in Tarik like many doubters did not.”
The outfielder won Empire League rookie of the year in 2016 and was part of two championship teams during his time in independent ball. In 2017, El-Abour was invited to the Royals’ Kauffman Stadium as part of Autism Awareness Night. A year later, the young athlete is now headed to the team’s minor league training facilities in Arizona for the 2018 season.