Nicky Delmonico's Rollercoaster Trek from Suspended Addict to Rookie MLB Stud

Seth Gruen@SethGruenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 8, 2017

Nicky Delmonico (30) es felicitado por el cubano José Abreu, su compañero en los Medias Blancas de Chicago, luego de conectar un jonrón dentro del parque ante los Rangers de Texas, el viernes 18 de agosto de 2017  (AP Foto/Mike Stone)
Mike Stone/Associated Press

CHICAGO — Barb Courtney remembers the exact time—12:34 a.m.—that her phone rang on that night back at the end of July. So many fearful thoughts run through a parent's mind when a call comes in at that hour, and she had every reason to have them all. Her son, Nicky Delmonico, has been through so much over the past few years: addiction, suspension from baseball, thoughts of quitting the game, rehab. What now?

The few seconds it took her to get to the phone and answer seemed like an eternity. But once she heard his voice, her fears were replaced with elation.     

"Mama," Delmonico said over the phone. "Your baby is going to the big leagues."

Since that night—"That moment in time is just frozen for me," Courtney said—and his August 1 debut, Delmonico has become one of the great stories of the 2017 MLB season, a story of desperation and perseverance and now redemption. Through Wednesday, Delmonico is slashing .295/.415/.551 with the White Sox. This just three years after he was suspended from baseball for using Adderall without MLB's permission and two years after going to rehab for his dependency on that drug.

Like any other player, Delmonico's arrival was a culmination. Sure, he paid his dues, rising through every level of the minor league system. But for Delmonico, who spoke with Bleacher Report in the White Sox dugout just days before coming off a stint on the 10-day disabled list, it is also the byproduct of overwhelming personal transformation.

Delmonico was first diagnosed with attention deficit disorder in high school. He wasn't a wild kid, and though sports were always more a part of his life than academics, that had a lot to do with baseball simply being in his DNA. His dad, Rod, was head baseball coach at Tennessee for 18 years and managed the Netherlands in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Nicky wasn't the type of kid to ignore his parents, or his doctors, so when he was prescribed Adderall, he did what almost any would do. He filled the prescription.

"When I was first prescribed, the doctor said at one point I'm going to have to get off it," Delmonico remembered. "That should have been a red flag from the get-go.

"I didn't know, at a young age, what this drug was about or what it was going to do."

The drug did help him, for the most part, become more focused in school. After graduating from Farragut High in Knoxville, Tennessee, he was drafted by the Orioles in the sixth round of the 2011 MLB draft. He was perceived to be a first-round talent that year but fell with teams fearing he would play college baseball at Georgia. Baltimore was able to lure him away from his scholarship by offering him a $1.525 million signing bonus.

Adderall is an amphetamine. In its drug protocol, baseball tests players for amphetamines. But it is an accepted substance as long as players make the league office aware they are taking it and provide the specific dosage.

Delmonico was approved by MLB to take the drug and remained on it for nearly three years. He was traded to the Brewers in 2013, and soon after that season concluded, he decided to stop taking Adderall. He had come to realize over time he had a problem with it. He had built up such a tolerance that no amount could satisfy his cravings. The details of how often when he was taking pills remain private, but he says he spent nights without getting any sleep and the medicine caused noticeable weight loss.

"It was hard for me to sleep, it was hard for me to keep my weight up—and I think it was just a slow process," Delmonico said of becoming addicted. "But it was day by day, and finally I tried to get off of it, and I didn't understand how or how to get away from it."

Prior to the start of the 2014 season, he informed MLB he would no longer be taking Adderall, but what he didn't anticipate were the brutal withdrawal symptoms. Both mentally and physically, Delmonico felt as if he needed the drug. He eventually went back on it that same season—this time without informing MLB.

"In that situation, it's not like you're dealing with your normal state of mind," Courtney said. "So I never thought I was talking to real Nicky. But with somebody—whether it's Adderall or it's something else—you're dealing with the substance at that point, not the person."

Mentally, Delmonico had checked out of baseball. It brought him no joy, and he dreaded going to the ballpark.

He remembers taking a pill the night before he got tested. So he didn't need to wait for any results. Thirty-seven games into the 2014 season, while playing with Brewers High-A affiliate Brevard County, he was given a 50-game suspension.

From the outside, the optics were bad: Delmonico was caught for taking what could be perceived as a performance-enhancing drug. But the circumstances were far different than those of most who have violated MLB's drug policy.

"I felt like I let everybody down," Delmonico said. "More importantly, I felt like I let myself down. For me it was hard to handle all that stuff. I didn't know what to do, and I think, maybe, it kind of made everything worse."

Still battling his addiction, Delmonico didn't play for the remainder of the 2014 season and, in the spring of 2015, asked for and was granted his release by the Brewers so that he could seek treatment. 

He spent about 45 days undergoing counseling and therapy for an addiction he says is both physical and mental, and he "got emotional with a bunch of things" while also learning about Adderall and addiction.

"It's a scary, scary drug for kids to be on," Delmonico said of Adderall.

"I have been through too much with that drug," Courtney said. "Just don't do it. It is overly prescribed. I think parents and physicians alike need to wake up."

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises "preferably both medication and behavior therapy should be used together" for children ages six to 18 diagnosed with ADD. Delmonico acknowledged he still has to manage his disease, but he wants to serve as an example that it is possible to live with it without chemical intervention.

And to be successful.

After getting out of rehab, Delmonico signed with the White Sox as a free agent and took less than a year to advance from Single-A to Triple-A, where he played the entirety of the 2017 season before being called up on August 1.

Tommy Thompson, a player development assistant with the White Sox and himself an alcoholic, became a confidant and source of support for Delmonico after he signed with the team. Thompson has been blown away with Delmonico's transformation. "What he has accomplished is a tribute to him—the work—and I think he had [that] drive from being a little kid," he said.

Said Delmonico, "I've learned how to train my mind better. I read more things, I do stuff to help my ADD. I'm still all over the place if you ask anybody. I'm a free spirit guy, and I still have my ADD, and I take that in. I'm happy to have it to be honest."

CHICAGO - AUGUST 22:  Nicky Delmonico #30 of the Chicago White Sox takes a selfie with fans prior to the game against the Minnesota Twins on August 22, 2017 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois.  The White Sox defeated the VISITOR 0-0.  (Photo by
Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Delmonico wants to be as much a cautionary tale as an inspiration. He's confident there are others who struggle with the same addiction.

"There were so many times where I knew I needed to stop, but it was an ongoing struggle," Delmonico said. "And then finally, I was able to get away from it and find out who I used to be and who I am and get back to that person."