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Kremer: Fuel Sports Performance a Training Ground for Champions

A father builds on his special relationship with his son as he builds an empire of indoor sports performance training facilities that serve the entire Joliet area.

Joliet Catholic Academy's Johnny Bylina works on his swing during a batting practice session in the field house at Fuel Sports Performance in Romeoville. Credit: Ron Kremer
Joliet Catholic Academy's Johnny Bylina works on his swing during a batting practice session in the field house at Fuel Sports Performance in Romeoville. Credit: Ron Kremer
A father’s love for his son and love for baseball has fueled the rise of a mini-training empire that now is serving the entire Joliet area.

And that special between-the-lines bond that connects the Bylina boys of Channahon is one they want to share by generating more year-round opportunities for others, both in an entrepreneurial way and in a way that serves the greater good.

John Bylina, 39, the father of four children, likely will never strike it rich running his Fuel Sports Performance baseball, softball and cheerleading training centers. Two are operational—a field house on O’Hare Drive in Romeoville and a cheerleading facility and retail space at Caton Farm and Weber Road in Crest Hill.

A third—a 36,000-square-foot warehouse space located at 400 E. Earl Road in Shorewood—will open to great fanfare in mid-September because it promises to be the biggest and best facility in Bylina’s arsenal yet. There will be 17 batting cages, four clay pitching mounds and 70 yards of speed and agility training space.

Bylina has a music degree from Lewis University and also has a day job—he works for AT&T. By night, he lives and breathes baseball. He sees to it his son, Johnny, who will be a senior at Joliet Catholic Academy, does not have to store his bat and his glove in mothballs once cold weather arrives.

“When I was younger as an athlete, we would dream for facilities like this,” Bylina said during a meeting at Fuel Sports Performance’s field house in Romeoville. “Everything was outside. In the winter, you just gave it up and waited until it got nice out again to do it.”

Fuel Sports Performance caters to high-end travel-league ballplayers, enrolled in baseball and softball programs. To that end, Bylina has assembled a Who’s Who-like cast of coaches to work with the travel teams and players that have become his most loyal clients.

The names are familiar to many: Jared Voss (Joliet Catholic Academy), Andy Satunas (Lockport), Sal Fasano (roving catching instructor, Toronto Blue Jays) and Hassan Stevenson (head athletic performance coach and Lewis University women’s basketball and soccer trainer).

Bylina’s wife, Becky, and three other children, Kayla, 14, Olivia, 7, and Andrew, 4, are along for the ride.

And what a ride.

John took his oldest son on a road trip earlier this week to visit three colleges in Michigan—Adrian, Calvin and Hope. Johnny is a catcher/outfielder who boasts and 3.4 grade point average and plans to study exercise science. He wants to become a physical therapist when he hangs up his cleats.

Don’t expect that to happen at anytime in the near future. He helped JCA win the Class 3A state championship last spring. And he’s still basking in the “pinch-me, is it real?” afterglow of that shining moment.

“It was fantastic,” Johnny said. “Since I was 3 years old, my dad was drilling it into me, ‘Joliet Catholic, we’re going to win the state championship.’ Then, it happens and you’re there and it’s almost a little hard to take in.”

John Bylina grew up in Bolingbrook and played a little ball for The Hill during his heyday. His son is twice the player he is—by conservative estimates. Johnny credits much of his development to his year-round training schedule and the one-on-one sessions he’s undergone with Fasano, an ex-big leaguer himself.

“When he gets back after the season, he basically becomes dad for me,” Johnny Bylina said. “My dad steps aside and I’m with Sal. I’m soaking up everything he has to say every day. We’re working at Fuel every day and I’m getting to know what he’s all about and getting a feel for what he’s saying.”

Fasano has taught Bylina an entire catching program, from the basics of getting into his stance to blocking balls in the dirt.

“He gets into detail,” Johnny said. “He really loves what he does.”

Jim O’Brien, who coaches the 10-under travel team with Victory Baseball, said year-round training helps ballplayers in northern Illinois compete on a more level playing field with their counterparts from down South and out West, particularly as they age and vie for college scholarships.

Victory Baseball is one of many organizations that makes Fuel Sports Performance its home away from home in the offseason. Fuel draws baseball and softball players from Joliet, Shorewood, Channahon, Minooka, Plainfield, Lockport and New Lenox. Some play at private schools during the IHSA season. Others play at public schools.

All walk away from Fuel feeling as if they’ve notched a victory.

“It’s great to have the training facilities because it gives our athletes a competitive advantage over other travel organizations,” O’Brien said. “But it all stems back to the instructors that we have here.”

Rest assured, the level of that instruction goes well beyond, “See the ball, hit the ball.”

“For baseball, speed and agility is very important especially in the acceleration phase as far as starting and getting to your top speeds as quickly as possible,” Hassan said. “When you talk about breaking on the ball—that’s accelerating to the ball.

“So, you want that outfielder to be able to accelerate to that ball in a linear fashion. And, then, your shortstops, your second basemen, your third basemen, they have to be able to accelerate to the ball in a lateral fashion. So, what we like to do in our speed and agility training is focus on that acceleration, that fast start, and also focus on the linear and lateral movements that it takes to be able to get to the ball in an athletic position.”

John Bylina said those types of opportunities were limited when he was boy. His playing career ended after a couple of unremarkable years at Joliet Catholic.

“Part of the reason is I was out of shape,” he said. “I didn’t have these type of opportunities. I didn’t have anybody pushing me in the right direction to train or do anything. So, when my son showed interest in baseball, I, of course, immediately got interested in having a facility as well.”

One day Bylina might even make a few bucks. For now, he considers his second job more of a love affair. And, when it comes to his relationship with his son, he is in it to win it. You could say this about the Bylina boys: The two are riding down that winding road of life on high-octane Fuel.

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