Fred Crabtree

Fred Crabtree enjoyed the 2010 Vienna Little League opening day ceremony, one of 59 he attended since the league's beginnings after World War II. (File photo by Dave Facinoli)

Opening-day ceremonies at Vienna Little League won’t be the same this spring.

Fred Crabtree, who attended each of the previous 59 opening days and is the most famous person ever associated with the league, died on March 11. He was 96.

“He was the face of Vienna Little League,” said league chairman Bill Cervenak. “He will be terribly missed.”

Crabtree was one of the pioneers and founding fathers of the league.

Over the decades, Crabtree was a coach, umpire, officer and board member for Vienna Little League. The showcase diamond of the league’s Yeonas Park complex is named Fred Crabtree Field.

“Look at what he did,” Cervenak said. “He comes back from World War II, settles down to raise his family, then with some other men literally puts Vienna Little League together. That’s a pretty good volunteer, if you ask me.”

While Crabtree’s health became fragile the last few years, he continued to attend the opening-day ceremonies, which this year are scheduled for April 14 at Yeonas Park. Cervenak said Crabtree will be honored on that day with an empty chair, an obituary in the program and in other ways.

“I wish he could have made opening day again,” Cervenak said. “Freddy was always on top of the world on opening day.”

Until about seven years ago, nearly to his 90th birthday, Crabtree still coached in the league and worked on the fields. 

“Vienna Little League lost its biggest legend,” James Madison High School baseball coach Mark Gjormand said. “Opening day on April 14 won’t be the same without Mr. Crabtree.”

 “I’ve known him since I was 6 years old – he loved baseball and kids, and he committed his life to doing things for kids,” Gjormand said. “He had a way of inspiring that was untouched. He treated everybody with respect and did things the right way. I don’t know how much money he had, but Mr. Crabtree was a very rich person because of the way he was.”

Gjormand said the senior players on his team this spring will have their picture taken on Crabtree Field as a way to honor the man.

Vienna Mayor M. Jane Seeman said the loss of Crabtree is a the passing of an era.

“He was such an institution and I just hate to see that go,” she said. “So many kids playing in Vienna Little League today are benefiting from what he did. He left a great legacy. All you needed to ever do was say Freddy, and everyone knew who that was. You didn’t have to say Crabtree.”

Linda Norman was the first woman to serve as president of Vienna Little League, giving her the chance to work closely with Crabtree.

“I think he was very proud Vienna had a woman president,” Norman said. “Freddy lived a really good life and enjoyed what he was doing. He was always there with a wealth of baseball knowledge and experience. But he never liked to take any credit for anything.”

One of the many things Crabtree did for the league was help start the popular Challenger program for youngsters with physical and intellectual disabilities..

Jimmy Linza, the publicity and communications director for Vienna Little League, was never coached by Crabtree but remembers him being a huge part of the league, especially the Challenger initiative, which started in 1989.

“As far as Vienna Little League, he would be the No. 1 person thinking back to the beginning. He was always involved,” Linza said. “He was so proud of that Challenger program.”

Cervenak said he can’t even imagine how many lives of young ball players Crabtree touched.

“If there was such a thing as a chain of pallbearers for Freddy, it must be in the thousands,” he said.

In addition to his involvement with Vienna Little League, Crabtree was a board member on the Fairfax County Park Authority from 1969 to 1992, where he helped expand and develop a number of parks and facilities in the county. 

For his efforts, in July 2006, the authority renamed Fox Mill District Park in Reston to Fred Crabtree Park.

“He was an amazing man,” Cervenak said.

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