Nearly 30 years ago, Frank Vavreck was gazing at a Minnesota map when he had a royal vision. He saw a king's face, complete with crown and beard. Hwy. 2, which cuts across northern Minnesota, was the crown's base. The St. Croix River on the Wisconsin border was the face, with the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers framing the hair. Lake Mille Lacs? A cheekbone blemish.
He still has the napkin upon which he sketched out his royal vision in 1984. A couple of pieces of orange tape hold it together.
What might have been a forgotten flash of inspiration for some became an obsession for Vavreck, who's dealt with homelessness and has been on Social Security disability amid complicated family issues since his days in the military in the post-Vietnam era.
He still carries around his 1990 copyright documents for his King of Kings idea, which is also called Fit for a King.
"It only cost $10 back then to get a copyright," he said.
He has shopped his idea around, relentlessly. He offered it to Canterbury Park horse racing officials -- "they're the sports of kings" -- the State Fair, the Mall of America, the Festival of Nations, the Twins, the "Vi-Kings," the Wild, the Explore Minnesota tourism folks, the Minnesota Renaissance Festival and the USA Cup youth soccer tournament.
"I don't see how any of them turned it down, let alone all of them," he said with a shrug over lunch at the White Castle of Lake Street and 36th Avenue -- his restaurant of choice.
Vavreck has never used a computer, admitting he's a bit old school and is having a slow go putting together his autobiography, rich with baseball themes, his domestic issues and memories of fast-pitch softball in the Army.
His titles so far: "Battery, I mean, Batter Up," "An Autobiography of Me" and "Take Me Out to the Old Bald Game."
"I haven't combed my hair since 1979," he joked, showing a military enlistment photo of himself with an already-receding hairline in 1979, the year he enlisted. He served until 1982. At Fort Riley in Kansas and later at a German base, he played third base for a championship Army softball team.
Among his most prized possessions: three stadium lights from Metropolitan Stadium.
"I was a big Tony Oliva guy," growing up watching the '69 and '70 Twins with Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew, he said. He returned to Bloomington in 1985 when the stadium was nearly done being torn down. The light standards were just lying there, so he used pliers to grab the lights and scavenged the chalked lines of the coaching boxes.
After a few years of homelessness, Vavreck has a place to live in Minneapolis near where he grew up, thanks to a Veterans Affairs supportive housing program for homeless vets.
And he's still hoping to market his royal flush of an idea, Minnesota as a king, 28 years after capturing his ah-ha moment on a napkin.
"You know those waterfalls along the North Shore? Those are the crown jewels."