Image: Mark Littell
Ross D. Franklin  /  AP
Mark Littell shows off the Nutty Buddy. He's so confident of the item's protective ability he took a shot from a pitching machine in the ... you know ... to prove it and put it on YouTube.
updated 12/9/2007 2:35:44 PM ET 2007-12-09T19:35:44

Mark Littell believes he has a better way to protect your boys, and, as his YouTube video shows, the former major leaguer will risk his manhood to prove it.

Perched on a wooden pallet, Littell braces 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 big and small 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 is on the high end in price, about twice as much as a typical athletic cup. But Littell is betting that parents will buy them for their sons anyway in hopes the better fit will get them to wear the cups more often.

In case their kids need encouraging, Littell’s cups come with 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,” he says with a chuckle when asked about the names. “I’m from the country.”

So far, Littell’s company has sold 3,500 units through the Web, and he also plans to market them to hockey and lacrosse players, competitive bull riders, police officers — even women. “They need them too,” he says.

Littell, who bears a resemblance to Bill Clinton, is perhaps best known for giving up the hit that allowed Pete Rose to break the National League career hit record in 1981. He’s since bounced around the minor leagues as a pitching coordinator.

The idea for the Nutty Buddy came several years ago in the dugout while working for the Kansas City Royals organization.

“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 says he always wore a cup while on the mound. He only got smashed in the groin once by a hit, but he still remembers it.

“Every 10,000 balls you throw, there will be one that comes right back at you that you can’t avoid,” he says.

Serious sports injuries to the groin/genital area are extremely rare, according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy. Surveys by the center during the past two years tallied only four out of 7,043 high school sports injuries that resulted in the athlete missing a day or more.

Injuries to the scrotum tend to take care of themselves after bruises, swelling and bleeding. A severe hit can twist the testicle around, damaging it so much that in the worst cases it would have to be removed.

“When I see football players especially, I look at them in the face and say ’I would use all the equipment available to protect myself, including a cup,”’ said Bruce Valentine, an athletic trainer for the Sports Medicine Center for Young Athletes in Oakland, Calif. “It kind of falls on deaf ears, but the kids who are more experienced with that kind of injury are more receptive.”

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 his model and applying for patents.

Men have used a variety of protective straps and codpieces for centuries. The modern jock and cup trace their roots to the “jockey strap” that bicycle jockeys wore while navigating the rough cobblestone streets of Boston in the 1870s.

Sports apparel companies tinker with the standard protective cup every few years, adding gel padding and different kinds of ventilation, but Littell says he’s never seen anything that looks like the Nutty Buddy.

Bike Athletic, an Atlanta company that claims to be the originator of the modern jock strap, has taken a look at the Nutty Buddy. But company officials say that there’s too little data to know if it’s as durable as their brand.

“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.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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