One of the perks of covering the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1980s was the ability to live among the players and coaches during spring training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.
What made it such a great experience was the routine presence of the team's all-time great players, who regularly ate in the Dodgertown dining room and had cocktails in the lounge that was open to all who resided at the complex.
That's where I was very privileged to meet a number of the most famous "Boys of Summer," including Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, Don Newcombe, Joe Black and an unassuming gentleman named Ralph Branca, who died on Wednesday at the age of 90.
Baseball fans remember Branca as the guy who gave up the famous "Shot Heard 'Round the World" -- Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning home run that is considered one of the most dramatic moments in the history of sport.
It was a devastating moment for Branca, who would henceforth be considered one of baseball's all-time goats, but the way he handled it -- and the life he led before and after that dubious defining moment -- should make him an example and inspiration to us all.
Branca was one of the first Dodgers players to embrace and befriend Jackie Robinson when some of his teammates were not thrilled to have a black teammate. They remained lifelong friends.
Branca also would eventually embrace his place in baseball history, making personal appearances with Thomson, who also became a close friend.
He was a nice man who probably deserved a better fate, since it was established in 2001 that the New York Giants had employed a sophisticated sign-stealing system to come back from a 13 1/2-game deficit in August and force the best-of-three playoff for the National League pennant. But Branca accepted that fate with class and dignity and turned a moment of failure into a life very well lived.