PHOENIX – Mark Littell believes he has a better way to protect himself, and the former major leaguer will risk his manhood to prove it.
In a video posted on YouTube, Littell is perched on a wooden pallet bracing himself as assistants aim the barrel of a pitching machine between his legs. On cue, the machine fires a baseball that smacks Littell right in the — well, you know — with a resounding whomp.
Littell stands and flexes his muscles, unfazed.
"Yes sir folks," he says into the camera. "The Nutty Buddy: It's mean, it's tough, and it's right there for ya, every time."
Littell, 54, says nine seasons with the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals helped him design an athletic cup that's ahead of the competition. The challenge now is to convince ball players that a good cup is worth the extra money.
"All people have to do is try it," Littell says.
The primary advantage to the Nutty Buddy is that it's anatomically correct, Littell says, which makes it more comfortable. Unlike traditional shell-shaped cups, the Nutty Buddy is wider, deeper and full of curves.
At $19.95, the Nutty Buddy costs about twice as much as a typical athletic cup. They come in macho names: "Hammer," "Boss," "Hog" and for really big men, the XL-sized "Mongo," a salute to the ogre-like character in the movie "Blazing Saddles."
"I'm a hick," Littell says with a chuckle when asked about the names. "I'm from the country."
Littell now works around the minor leagues as a pitching coordinator, and the idea for the Nutty Buddy came several years ago in the dugout.
"I asked my pitchers, how many of you guys don't wear cups? And half of them raised their hand," he said. "So I went off on a little mild tirade at the time."
Littell made his first prototype with a moldable plastic for splints and two golf balls. He says he's now sunk $40,000 of his own money into refining the model and applying for patents. His company has sold about 3,500 of the cups through the Web.
Bike Athletic, an Atlanta company that claims to be the originator of the modern jock strap, has taken a look at the Nutty Buddy.
"The only drawback is that it's such a drastic evolution" in shape, says Steve Kesterson, a senior merchandising manager for Bike Athletic. "Is it a decent cup?"
Littell has a simple answer: Look at the video. Will other companies stand by their product like Littell has with Nutty Buddy?
"Let's get the CEO of every cup company," he says. "You put your cup on, and I'll put my cup on, and we'll see who's left standing."