NEW ORLEANS -- For Collin Burns and Basiel Williams, Saturday capped off years of hard work and marked the start of a new journey, as they signed collegiate letters of intent.
Seated at a table on the field at the New Orleans Major League Baseball Academy, Williams and Burns signed to play collegiate baseball at Mississippi State and Tulane, respectively. It was at Wesley Barrow Stadium where the two spent four years training and improving their baseball skills.
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Burns said the academy helped improve his swing, fielding ground balls and his approach to baseball.
"It definitely has a professional feel to it," Burns said of training at the academy. "As a 12-year-old coming here, it felt like I was a little Major League Baseball player -- and that motivated me to work harder, for sure."
The facility offers free year-round baseball and softball instruction, something Williams took advantage of -- even if it meant traveling 60 miles from Hammond, La., two to three times a week for training.
"First rate, first class," said Williams' father, Basiel Sr., about the academy. "Detailed, organized. It's just what a young player needs to progress and get to that next level."
Besides baseball, the facility also offers vocational programs such as broadcasting, field maintenance, umpiring, sports law and after-school homework assistance.
Burns, who stayed down the street from the facility, found an interest in the sports law program. Eddie Davis -- a former 23rd-round Draft pick by the Dodgers in 1991 who manages the field and leads most of the training instruction -- reached out to a professor at Tulane's law school to come to the academy to teach the students about the business side of baseball. A mock arbitration trial was even held.
"It sparked an interest that I didn't even know," Burns said. "It was part of baseball -- how free agents are handled in baseball, just management of baseball teams. The management side of baseball that never really gets talked about."
The New Orleans MLB Youth Academy, which opened in 2012, replaced a 55-year-old facility that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The facility also operates in conjunction with the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission to offer educational and baseball programming for youth in under-served communities throughout Southern Louisiana.
After going through the recruiting process as a 17-year-old, Davis was able to pass along some knowledge to Burns and Williams about dealing with college coaches and how to handle the process.
"He's been a great help," said Williams. "A great role model. He helped me with all the colleges and going to different tournaments."
For Davis, to see Williams and Burns go off to college to play baseball is why he "gets out of bed" every day.
"This is what makes the job fun," Davis said. "This is what you would do for free. You want to help kids. I played [college baseball] and was fortunate enough to play professionally for five years, and you know I kind of wanted to pave the way to make it smoother for these guys."
Joshua Thornton is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.