© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

06/12/08 9:24 PM ET

Toronto a homecoming for some Cubs

Chicago (43-24) at Toronto (34-34), Friday, 6:07 p.m. CT

CHICAGO -- For Ryan Dempster, this weekend marks a homecoming of sorts.

Dempster and the Cubs will play their first Interleague series of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays, beginning Friday. The right-handed pitcher is Canadian, but grew up in British Columbia, not Ontario. He didn't seem to care.

"I'm going back to Canada," Dempster said. "There's going to be a big parade and all kinds of stuff, so it's going to be a good time."

The Interleague series will mark a different homecoming for Chicago's Reed Johnson and Ted Lilly. Both played for the Blue Jays, and Johnson was on the roster as recently as Spring Training before he was released.

"I don't have any hard feelings," Johnson said about his former team. "We're going there to try to win a series and that's all I'm focused on."

Johnson doesn't want to show up the Toronto organization, where he started his pro career.

"Once you get into that, it can be tough for you from a performance standpoint," he said. "I just go there and try to improve on the things I'm working on and see how things work out."

Lilly was traded from Oakland to Toronto in 2003, and spent three seasons there, 2004-06, before signing with the Cubs. He was a combined 37-34 for the Blue Jays, including a 15-win season in '06.

"I did like pitching there," said the lefty, who will close the series on Sunday. "The mound is good."

OK, so tell us about Rogers Centre, formerly known as Skydome, the Blue Jays' home park. Is it a hitter's park? Pitcher's park?

"It depends," Johnson said. "If the roof is open and the wind is blowing out -- Wrigley is a good hitter's park if the wind's blowing out, but when it's blowing in, it's pretty bad. It's kind of the same there [at Rogers Centre]. If it's closed, you have to hit it, especially in the middle of the field. It plays pretty big.

"Pitchers like it," Johnson said. "It's big, it's pretty good-sized to the middle of the field. The mound is really nice and high, and guys like that."

Let's ask Lilly. Do pitchers like it?

"I think it's more of a hitter's park," Lilly said. "Dodger Stadium, PETCO Park, San Francisco, those are pitchers' parks. Oakland, too. In the dome, I would say that's a hitter's park."

"Sometimes you'll get a little wind current in there and the ball will jet out a little bit," he said. "I've also seen balls get knocked down, too. It's a fun place to play, especially when there's people in the seats."

Chicago's Lou Piniella has managed in Toronto and Tampa -- the second stop on the road trip.

"In Toronto, if the weather is nice, [the roof] will be open," Piniella said. "Tampa Bay is a little tricky with that white cloth on top. It's like playing in the Metrodome in Minnesota. We're going to have to do some pregame work. You can't take your eye off the ball at all. If you do take your eye off, it's hard to pick up again.

"The big thing with these domes is the surface," Piniella said. "We'll have some sore knees and ankles and backs. We'll try to rest our team and play our bench and keep everybody nice and fresh."

The Cubs will see how many fans they have north of the border. The next two series will mark six straight games on artificial turf for the Cubs.

"Guys will feel it -- their hamstrings will be sore," Johnson said. "It's good after the six games are over, that's it [on turf]."

"You're just going to get truer hops, for the most part," Lilly said of the fake grass. "Balls will get through a little quicker. When I was there, that turf they put in was fairly soft."

For trivia buffs, the Cubs' last win on artificial turf was Sept. 1, 2004, at Montreal.

The Cubs missed the first round of Interleague Play this year, and not only have to deal with new teams -- they haven't played in Toronto since 2003, and have never played in Tampa -- but a tough travel schedule. After a weekend in Toronto, the Cubs will fly Monday morning to Albany, N.Y., then bus to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame Game, then get back on the bus to fly to Tampa. After Thursday's night game against the Rays, they have a day game in Chicago against their intracity rivals, the White Sox. It'll be a tough test.

"Talking to a lot of my buddies on the American League teams, Tampa is the real deal," said Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa. "They're a good team. Toronto is always scary, even when I was in the American League. You have to go in there and face [Roy] Halladay, [Dustin] McGowan and [A.J.] Burnett, and those guys, on any given night, can shut you down."

The Cubs will face Burnett, Halladay and right-hander Jesse Litsch in the three games. What does DeRosa think about playing on artificial turf?

"You get more knocks on turf," he said, smiling about the prospect of raising his batting average.

There is another plus to the games in Toronto.

"I can guarantee we won't get rained out," Lilly said.

Get your passports ready.

Pitching matchup
CHC: RHP Sean Gallagher (3-2, 4.42 ERA)
Gallagher walked three in his last start against the Dodgers, and two of them scored. He knows better. The youngster has impressed Piniella and the Cubs with his poise and his performance, and he continues to learn. He got into a jam in the fourth against the Dodgers but struck out four of the last five batters he faced in the game. He has fanned 14 in his last two starts.

TOR: RHP A.J. Burnett (5-6, 4.98 ERA)
Facing Baltimore in his last outing, Burnett suffered his worst start of the year. The hard-throwing right-hander gave up a season-high eight runs on 10 hits over 4 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out five. At home this season, Burnett has struggled mightily, posting an ERA of 9.00 over 27 innings.

The Cubs signed Ben Broussard to a Minor League contract Thursday, and he was to report to Triple-A Iowa. Broussard was batting .159 in 26 games with Texas. A left-handed bat, he has played for Cleveland, Seattle and the Rangers.

Interleague record: 76-78 overall; 0-0 in 2008

2008 Interleague schedule
• June 13 at Toronto
• June 14 at Toronto
• June 15 at Toronto
• June 17 at Texas
• June 18 at Texas
• June 19 at Texas
• June 20 vs. White Sox
• June 21 vs. White Sox
• June 22 vs. White Sox
• June 24 vs. Baltimore
• June 25 vs. Baltimore
• June 26 vs. Baltimore
• June 27 at White Sox
• June 28 at White Sox
• June 29 at White Sox

Record vs. Blue Jays: 2-4

All-time club Interleague Play leaders:
Batting average: Derrek Lee, .372
Home runs: Sammy Sosa, 33
RBIs: Sosa, 100
Wins: Jon Lieber, 8
ERA: Lieber, 3.50 ERA

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On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
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On radio
• WGN 720

Up next
• Saturday: Cubs (Jason Marquis, 4-3, 4.54) at Blue Jays (Roy Halladay, 8-5, 3.07), 12:07 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Cubs (Ted Lilly, 6-5, 5.13) at Blue Jays (Jesse Litsch, 7-2, 3.42), 12:07 p.m. CT
• Monday: Hall of Fame Game, Cooperstown, NY

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.