Tarik El-Abour may be the only athlete signed from an independent league this year to make headlines. Most players growing up dream of signing a professional contract. El-Abour had that same dream, and spent the 2017 season playing in the Empire League. Recently, he signed with the Kansas City Royals, and while this feat is already a remarkable one, did we mention Tarik has autism?
Tarik El-Abour, an outfielder who hails from San Marino, California, is believed to be the first professional baseball player who has been diagnosed with Autism. He has grown up loving the game, and when he was younger, baseball is the way that his mother started to see the autistic signs in her son.
“That is when I started to see the workings of the autistic mind,” said Khalil. “I started to see how numbers had a lot to do with how he thinks. 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. Just like us. However, the way the numbers worked in his mind went way further than anything I could have yet imagined. He knew he had to practice. He knew he loved it. 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,” she told the San Marino times.

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El-Abour is not only amazing with the odds he has overcome, but he has worked hard to get where he is today. After high school he went to Pasadena City College before bouncing around to Concordia University, Pacifica College, and Bristol University. While he went undrafted, he did not give up. The outfielder signed with the Sullivan Explorers in southern New York, for the Independent Empire League. In 2016, he won Rookie of the Year, hitting .323 in 122 plate appearances. In 2017 he won a championship with the Plattsburgh Red Birds, batting just .240. El-Abour stands 6-foot 3-inches and has incredible speed, as well as a dependable glove in the outfield.
In 2016 he was invited to the Kansas City ballpark as a special guest by Royals adviser, Reggie Sanders. El-Abour was invited to take batting practice with the team, as well as throw out the first pitch on a night dedicated to Autism Awareness. Sanders started an organization dedicated to empowering and enabling individuals with autism, and while this coincidence may seem like a simple first pitch ceremony, it appears as though it could turn into a career for the young man.

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Autism is “ a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. We now know that there is not one autism but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences,” according to Autism Speaks official website. More than 3.5 million people in the United States alone live with Autism. Some of the challenges that people with autism may deal with are difficulty perceiving emotional states in others, understanding areas outside of a certain area of focus, understanding unwritten rules of social interaction, as well as sensory integration issues.
One of the benefits people with autism can find is that they often can be more focused in certain areas with a high attention to detail and knowledge. They also have a tendency for logical problem-solving, and independent thinking. The Royals have been very accommodating in recent seasons, creating eight “quiet” sections throughout the stadium for those with sensory overload, as well as concession stands that have picture menus for those that are non-verbal.

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While El-Abour is the first to be diagnosed with autism specifically, he is not alone in the baseball world. Zack Greinke suffers from social anxiety disorder, which can have overlapping signs with autism, while being a separate diagnosis. Jim Eisenrich suffered uncontrollable tics caused by Tourette’s Syndrome, which eventually forced him to step away from the game. He eventually returned to the Big Leagues with the Royals, however, he was later diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which falls on the autism spectrum, effectively ending his career.
El-Abour has faced many challenges, and still finds a way to thrive in his career. Although he still faces the odds of making The Show, like every baseball player, he is a role model and inspiration for the autism community, as well as for everyone who wishes to pursue their dreams.

Picture Credit: EmpireProLeague.Com; RedBirdsProBaseball.Com; Twitter.Com (Courtesy of Kansas City Royals official account);

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Written by Andrew Ashworth

I am a Baseball Sports Analyst and Writer for "The Game Changer"

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