Days after Michael Pobat first took over as the administrator for Virginia's Little League District Four in 1997, he was instantly hit with dozens of requests and complaints from local baseball coaches.
Feeling nearly overwhelmed with the weight of the position and its responsibility, he felt the arm of Fred Crabtree, a long-time friend and assistant district administrator come around his shoulder. What came next was a humorous story about how struggling to please everyone will only result in failure.
"It was the exact right thing that I needed to hear at that time," Pobat said. "I think about the piece of advice constantly and I've used that as my philosophy in this position since I heard it."
Crabtree, 90, of Fairfax, has made an impression on more than just Pobat. The Fairfax County Park Authority voted in June to give Fox Mill District Park in the Herndon area the honorary name of the 24-year parks volunteer and baseball enthusiast.
A tentative date of Aug. 29 has been set for the ceremonial unveiling of the new sign for Fred Crabtree District Park, according to Pobat.
A LOVER OF BASEBALL and a believer in the effect that parks can have on encouraging children to stay away from trouble and lead positive lives, Crabtree is the perfect candidate to have a park named in his honor, Pobat said.
Crabtree began his park career with Fairfax County in 1959 as the project manager for the construction of Yeonas Park in Vienna. He has been an assistant administrator for Northern Virginia's state Little League District Four since 1962.
"We call him the jewel of District Four because he's just the sweetest guy you'll ever meet," said Pobat, who has known Crabtree since 1984. "He'd take the shirt off his back for you if you needed it and he does it all for the love of the game and the kids."
Crabtree's experience as a construction worker in World War II-era Europe building latrines and baseball fields for the troops helped to build his skills at developing good baseball fields.
"He used to say that he had two jobs in the war, one was to build crappers and the other was to build ball fields," said Pobat, "and he didn't necessarily do them in that order."
While baseball and field maintenance is a subject where Crabtree excels, it’s his presence as a local baseball icon that make him so valuable to the community said Bill Cervenak, chairman of Vienna Little League and a resident of Oakton.
“It’s just the fact that he’s been involved with the league since its inception,” Cervenak said. “He is Vienna Little League as far as I’m concerned.”
AS A VOLUNTEER board member of the Fairfax County Park Authority from 1969 to 1992, Crabtree dedicated himself to seeking out and acquiring land for the development of public parks and sports fields. He was responsible for the acquisition of the land that was later developed into eight parks, including Nottoway Park, Peterson Lane Park, Frying Pan Park and the park that would later bear his name, Fox Mill District Park. These parks are home to 41 little league baseball fields, according to Pobat.
"The most amazing thing is, he never got paid to do any of this, he did this all as a volunteer," Pobat said. "When you look at the list of all these parks, we would not have them if it wasn't for Freddy Crabtree."
DESPITE THE HONOR of having a park named after him, Crabtree said that he was just happy to be of service for the children of Fairfax County.
"I was surprised, I didn't have any idea that they would" name a park after him, said Crabtree. "The most rewarding thing is that I've been able to get more baseball fields and sports fields of any kind for the children."
Using sports and athletic activities as a deterrent for juvenile crime and an origination point of teamwork and leadership skills makes the business of park maintenance and creation very important to community, Crabtree said.
"You don't start working with kids when they're 15-years-old, you start working with them when they're 5- or 6-years-old," he said. "If you can get to them then — you can do a lot to stop some of the problems you see," in communities with crime problems.
Crabtree will be given a gift of appreciation from Fairfax County later this month for influencing the entire community of Fairfax County, Pobat said.
"When you take a look at [Fox Mill District Park] it's not just a little sandlot, it's a lot of land, and to have that named after you, that's pretty prestigious," he said. "This is long-deserved."