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The start of the little league baseball season generally is a joyous event.

But for the Vienna Little League the opening day also brought with it a somber mood to mark the ending of an era.

As the 60th season began Saturday, it did so without Fred Crabtree.

Considered by many to be the little league’s most famous member, Crabtree died March 11. He was 96.

A fixture of the league until seven years ago — serving stints as coach, umpire, administrator and board member — Crabtree was honored during the opening day ceremonies.

“We had a single empty chair out for him in his honor,” said Bill Cervenak, league chairman. “Fred was a true pioneer [for the league]. He held every position you could think of in the league. He was an amazing individual whose contributions have done a lot for VLL. If you say Vienna Little League, Fred comes up as the face of the league. It was the passing of an era.”

Although Crabtree had stepped back from his roles years ago, he still was a visible part of the league. He even had a field named after him.

The loss of Crabtree provided a somber mood at the ceremony, but for the children the excitement of a new season carried on as it always has — and that’s how Crabtree would have wanted it.

Cervenak said the league invited local politicians and dignitaries to throw out the first pitch.

“There’s so many opening days going on that it’s sometime hard to get dignitaries,” Cervenak said. “But we had a number of town council members show up and Mayor [M.] Jane Seeman among others. It was a lot of people from the community that showed up for us.”

A local grocery donated more than 1,000 cookies to the event, and a mascot was on-hand to pass out trinkets and bracelets.

The festivities aren’t going to be a one-time event either; Cervenak said the league plans to celebrate its 60th anniversary throughout the year.

“We’ll be doing all that for the entire season,” he said. “It won’t just be one day and done. There are a number of promotions that we will be doing all year to celebrate the 60th anniversary.”

Cervenak said in the past 60 years, the league has become about more than just baseball. It has served as a community hub for neighbors and friends to gather throughout the summer.

“Vienna Little League is an integral part of the community,” he said. “It’s where the Fourth of July fireworks are held and we do lots of other community functions. There’s a link going back 60 years between Vienna and Vienna Little League. We plan on nurturing [the link].”

Carrying on opening day without Crabtree proved tough on some of the league’s older members, but with the league successfully kicked off the 2012 season. Cervenak said the time for remembrance has ended — now it’s up to a new generation to keep the league alive for another 60 years.

“Now it’s time for us to pick up the torch and carry on his work,” Cervenak said. “And that’s what we’re going to do. Eventually we all leave this mortal coil, but life goes on and it’s on us to carry on.”

ralbers@fairfaxtimes.com