YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Ocon Family Makes Mark at Glendale and Beyond : Nicaragua: One son's success as a swimmer could help strengthen ties between his baseball-loving father and the family's homeland.


As far as Max Ocon is concerned, there are only two kinds of athletes: baseball players and those who wish they were baseball players. Which is one reason it pains him to lug the family scrapbook out of the closet.

Another reason that gives him pain is that the two-volume set is roughly the same size and weight as a Volkswagen Beetle. But included among the water polo, swimming, track and football clippings are scarce few accounts of heroics on the baseball field.

"Sure I'm disappointed," Ocon says. "I wished they had stayed with baseball. Because they were really good."

Ocon's five kids haven't exactly failed in the other sports they've tried. Two sons, Lawrence and Leo, are starting on their college water polo teams; eldest son Luis and daughter Lisette were track standouts in high school; and Luzmila, a drill-team member at Glendale High, holds a school record in swimming.

But for Max, Lawrence's two Babe Ruth League no-hitters stand out more than his Glendale single-season record of 116 goals in water polo. And he remembers Leo's first game as a Little League second baseman, not as a freshman starter on UC Santa Cruz's fledgling water polo team.

"He pushed us to play baseball," Lawrence says of his father. "Before high school, I didn't have an interest in any other sports."

The elder Ocon's devotion to baseball was born in his homeland of Nicaragua, where the sport has a fervent following. But ironically, one son's success in swimming could draw Max closer to Nicaragua than a dozen youth-league no-hitters would have.

During a trip to Managua last May, Lawrence was invited to work out with Nicaragua's national swim team. He so impressed the coaches that they asked him to represent Nicaragua in the Central American Games in Honduras in January.

Lawrence, who was born in the United States but can also represent Panama and Nicaragua internationally by virtue of his mother's and father's nationality, hasn't decided if he'll accept.

"It depends on how school is going," he says.

Adds his father: "I don't want the fact that he's swimming in Honduras to cause him any problems with the NCAA and the government of the United States."

Such caution comes from experience. The current political and economic standoff between the U. S. government and Nicaragua's revolutionary leadership has frustrated Ocon's attempts to develop business ties in Nicaragua.

Ocon owns a gas station in Rosemead and also runs a courier service, taking packages to and from Nicaragua. But he has plans to market concessions at Managua's national stadium and, toward that end, took an estimated $20,000 in baseball equipment to the country earlier this month.

"But I can't get started until after the embargo (is lifted) because I can't get the machinery," Ocon said.

This month's delivery was not Ocon's first contact with the baseball community in Nicaragua. As co-director of the Hollywood-based group Baseball Diplomacy, Ocon was the point man for a U. S. team's visit to Nicaragua last summer. He also has helped to arrange a number of other baseball-related delegations, including one headed by Vera Clemente, the widow of Pittsburgh Pirate Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.

And baseball remains a frequent topic of conversation, if not participation, around the Ocon household.

"I really miss it," Lawrence says. "But then, when I watch football on television, I really miss that too."

What he doesn't miss is much time in the pool, putting in as many as six hours a day in the water. Such dedication is not unusual in the Ocon family, for which father Max sets the tone with frequent 16-hour work days.

"I think a lot of what a kid learns starts from the training they get at home," Glendale High Principal Sam Harvey said. "Not only are (the Ocons) good athletes, but they've all participated in school activities.

"Fortunately for Glendale High, they've all done very well."

Which has conspired to make the Ocon name a familiar one at the school. It's a familiar--if perhaps infamous--one in Nicaragua as well. Max's father, Luis, was a high-ranking National Guard officer and chief of police during the violent 37-year Somoza family dictatorship. When Max was 15 years old, his mother and father separated, and Max followed his mother to Los Angeles.

He returned to Nicaragua infrequently during the 1960s and '70s and rarely spoke with his father. But after stepping in to help a touring Nicaraguan baseball team find housing and transportation during a visit to Los Angeles four years ago, Ocon took a renewed interest in his birthplace. Now he owns a house and a small farm just outside the capital of Managua, visiting the country three to four times a year.

And he hasn't limited his interest to sports and business.

Los Angeles Times Articles