In the spring of 1978, Jim Cosgrove got a job any baseball-loving 12-year-old could only dream of.
Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett had just moved to Cosgrove’s Brookside neighborhood — and he needed someone to cut his grass and clean up after late-night parties.
The gig came with some amazing perks: great pay, free tickets to ballgames and the envy of every kid in the neighborhood.
“This was beyond huge,” writes Cosgrove in his new self-published book, “Everybody Gets Stinky Feet: Uplifting Essays About the Sweet and Smelly Bits of Life.”
“In the eyes of a sports-crazed seventh-grader, George Brett was about as big and cool as the Six Million Dollar Man and Evel Knievel rolled into one.”
Like Brett, Cosgrove grew up to have a pretty cool reputation with kids. For nearly 20 years, the Mission-based musician known as Mr. Stinky Feet has entertained families with silly, endearing songs such as “Bop Bop Dinosaur,” “Put Down the Binky” and the song that inspired his nickname, “Stinky Feet.” Sample lyric: “Clap your feet and wiggle your toes/Spray them down with a rubber hose.”
Cosgrove’s music has taken him on tours across North America and Europe. He played the White House’s annual Easter Egg Roll twice and organized Jiggle Jam, an annual children’s music festival in Kansas City. The last Jiggle Jam was in 2014; Cosgrove, who runs a record label called Mighty Mo Productions, says he’s working on a greatest hits album and talking to organizations around the city about possibly bringing back the festival in a new form.
“There’s a whole bunch of artists like me who are making music for families, and it’s really good music,” Cosgrove says. “There’s bluegrass, hip-hop, punk and straight-ahead rock ’n’ roll. It’s great quality stuff, but nobody’s organized the industry.”
Cosgrove’s other passion is writing. His eclectic career has included stints as a feature writer for a newspaper in New Mexico, an editor for Hallmark, a corporate spokesman, a motivational speaker and a parenting columnist for The Kansas City Star.
A couple of years ago, Cosgrove started gathering essays he’d written over the years for a book of stories about his life that would become “Everybody Gets Stinky Feet.” Autographed copies of the book are available to pre-order for $15 at jimcosgrove.com.
Many of the 32 essays in “Everybody Gets Stinky Feet” were originally published in Cosgrove’s Star column, in which he wrote about everything from cherished childhood memories — like mowing the lawn for George Brett — to sad, trying times. When his mom fell and broke her hip at 86, Cosgrove opened up about how hard it was for her to stay in bed while others tended to her.
“‘Doing’ is all she knows,” he wrote. “I think purpose is a huge part of what being a mother is all about. They never stop loving and doing. … And we never stop being children.”
Readers reached out from all over the metro to share similar stories about their own mothers.
“The response I was getting from my columns was really heartening and touching,” he says. “I responded to every one of them.”
In “Everybody Gets Stinky Feet,” Cosgrove shares stories about what it was like growing up as the youngest of eight kids in an Irish-Catholic family. Many are about his father, a devoted baseball fan who taught his son to soften mitts with bacon grease.
The author also shares sweet snapshots of his life with wife Jeni and daughters Lyda, 12, and Willa, 9. In one of them, Lyda tells her parents that she remembers picking them out at a Target store in heaven.
“I picked out your bones, and your arms, and legs, and hair, and paint to color your eyes,” Lyda said.
“How come you didn’t get me some more hair?” Cosgrove asked.
He also writes about one of the scariest moments of his life. When Willa was 8 weeks old, she was nearly killed when she was hit in the head by a foul ball at a minor league baseball game in Wichita. Prayers poured in from family, friends and strangers, and somehow, Willa pulled through without brain damage.
Cosgrove says the experience taught him about the importance of community and sticking together as a family.
“We still honor that day as Miracle Day,” he says.
If there’s a common thread that runs through all of Cosgrove’s music and stories, it’s the importance of human connection, whether those connections are made with family or total strangers. That thread is laced through Cosgrove’s tale about sharing a beer with a Muslim cab driver after 9/11. It’s in his memories of spending Thanksgiving at a homeless shelter in college. And it’s in the story about a lucky 12-year-old befriending his hero.
“Amazing things happen when you bring people together,” he says. “Let’s focus on what we have in common. Let’s focus on sticking together as families, communities — as the human race.”
See Mr. Stinky Feet live
▪ Easter Parade: Jim Cosgrove, aka Mr. Stinky Feet, will perform at 11:45 a.m. Saturday, April 15, at the Kansas City Easter Parade in Zona Rosa, 8640 N. Dixson Ave. The parade starts at 11 a.m.; the family event also features games and a petting zoo. For more info, go to ZonaRosa.com.
▪ Reach Out & Read: Cosgrove will be the keynote speaker at Reach Out & Read KC’s 20th Birthday Breakfast, 7:30-9 a.m. April 20 at the Uptown Theater, 3700 Broadway. The musician and author will sing songs and tell a story about reading with his dad. Tickets start at $60 and benefit Reach Out & Read, which provides books to low-income children in Kansas City. For more info, go to ReachOutAndReadKC.org.
▪ Book release: Cosgrove will read stories and perform songs at an official release party for his collection of essays, “Everybody Gets Stinky Feet,” at 6:30 p.m. May 16 at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.