The story came across the wire Nov. 23, 2008.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley had surgery after fracturing his leg when he slipped on ice outside his home near Reading.

Near Reading?

There was more than one double-take, more than one email, more than one person wanting to know why the right-hander and his wife, Tiffany, with seemingly no ties to the area, opted to make Berks County their home.

The simplest answer: foliage and family.

Chad and Tiffany met in Vero Beach, Fla., in 2004. The Ohio native was pitching there in the minors after being drafted in 2003. Tiffany lived in Florida, where she moved when she was 7 after being born in Reading Hospital and living in Robesonia. The couple married in 2006.

"We both wanted to move back east," Chad Billingsley said recently prior to the Animal Rescue League of Berks County's Diamond Jubilee Celebration at the Crowne Plaza Reading, Wyomissing, which he and his wife co-chaired. "We just really wanted to enjoy the seasons again."

His first choice was Tennessee, but Tiffany suggested they check out Berks, where she still had aunts and uncles.

"I really, really loved the area," Billingsley said. "She absolutely loves the farmland, and I absolutely love the hills and woods. Beautiful country."

Berks County also affords the Billingsleys the opportunity to live in relative anonymity. Chad - whose parents, Jim and Diane, now spend part of the year in the area - said he gets recognized occasionally, but the couple have enjoyed the friendliness of the people and how they've been accepted.

Now in their fifth offseason in South Heidelberg Township, the Billingsleys are becoming very much a part of the community through their efforts with the ARL. It began when Chad heard about a food shortage at the facility, prompting the Billingsleys to donate a truckload.

The Billingsleys - who have two dogs, a Pomeranian and a papillon - got a tour of the ARL that day and fell in love with the place.

"Over the years, we wanted to get involved with animals," Billingsley said.

That commitment only has grown. In 2012, Billingsley donated $100 for every strikeout and $1,000 for each win to the ARL, raising a total of $22,800 as he went 10-9 with 128 strikeouts and a 3.55 ERA in 25 games

"Our focus was we love animals, all kinds of animals," Billingsley said. "When I go on a two-week road trip and I come back and see our dogs, they're all excited to see me.

"How can you not love an animal like that? Animals don't have a voice. We're trying to help animals find homes and get the love. That's the only thing animals expect from us - to be loved. They don't expect anything else."

Billingsley's 2012 season ended Aug. 19 due to an injury to his right elbow. Initially, Billingsley, an All-Star in 2009, and the Dodgers feared he would need Tommy John surgery, which would cost him most if not all of the 2013 season.

But instead of surgery Billingsley underwent a procedure where platelet-rich plasma is injected into the elbow. He rehabbed in Arizona for a month following the season and progressed to the point where he could throw two pain-free innings.

Now, he's looking forward to his first season under the Dodgers' new, aggressive ownership group.

"They're coming to win," he said. "We gotta great team right now, but like all sports, you gotta stay healthy and keep performing and getting better. You can't be complacent."

Billingsley said he intends to continue donating to the ARL based on his wins and strikeouts in 2013. A healthy season could mean big things for not just the Dodgers.

"It's something I want to continue to do for years to come," Billingsley said of his and Tiffany's involvement with the ARL. "When I retire I'd like to get involved on a more serious, on a more regular basis."

Contact Brian Smith: 610-371-5073 or bmsmith@readingeagle.com.