MESA, Ariz. -- Ryan Dempster plans to move from closer to starter for the Chicago Cubs this season. On the first day of spring training, he took on another role: prognosticator.
"I think we are going to win the World Series. I really do," Dempster said.
That's a bold prediction before the start of a season that marks the 100th anniversary of the Cubs' last World Series winner.
"Funny when people make predictions or they say things and people are like, 'How could you say that?'" Dempster said Wednesday, as pitchers and catchers reported to camp.
"Like you believe it, you really do," Dempster added. "Enough of all the ... you know the curse this, the curse that, the goat this, the black cat, the 100 years, whatever it is. We're a better team than we were last year, I truly believe. And last year we made it to the playoffs."
The Cubs did make it to the postseason last season after a slow start, winning the NL Central before being swept in three games by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round.
A year ago in spring training, it was Carlos Zambrano guaranteeing the Cubs would win the World Series.
Dempster made no guarantees, but he's convinced the centurylong drought will end.
"I wouldn't show up here and work as hard as I did and everybody work as hard as they did to not believe that," he added.
Reminded that Zambrano's prediction fell short, Dempster didn't back down.
"And we were close, maybe we need some more guys saying it," he said. "You see these teams and they come together, they battle together and they endure through everything and they start believing that they are that good."
Manager Lou Piniella didn't seem fazed by Dempster's prediction before the season even gets under way. The Cubs added outfielder Kosuke Fukudome from Japan and veteran right-hander Jon Lieber in the offseason and have been trying to make a trade for Orioles' second baseman Brian Roberts.
"I like our team. I really do," Piniella said as he got ready to start his second season in Chicago. "We know the players a lot better, the players know the staff a lot better and that's a big advantage for us. But at the same time, that's a bold prediction. We just got to get it done on the field."
The 100-year wait between championships seems mind-boggling and it's a subject that will certainly follow the Cubs all season. Piniella plans to address it next week when the full squad gets together for the first time.
"Don't put that pressure on you, you worry about this year's team," Piniella said he would tell his squad. "Don't think about 100 years, think about this year here. And that's all you can do. ... You can't do anymore than that."
The Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908 and their last appearance came in 1945 when -- legend has it -- local bar owner William Sianis put a hex on the team because his goat was barred from Game 4.
In 1969, a sizable lead against the Mets disappeared late, and a black cat that ran across the field at Shea Stadium was assigned some of the blame.
The Cubs were five outs away from winning the 2003 NLCS when they become unglued as Florida rallied to a victory in Game 6 remembered most for a fan's interference on a foul ball. The Marlins went on to win Game 7 and then the World Series.
General manager Jim Hendry said he's certainly not dwelling on the drought. He's got enough to keep him busy. He'd like to make another move before the season starts if it's available.
"I still have some bad thoughts when I wake up in the middle of the night early about the series in '03. You try to move forward," Hendry said.
"Not one time in my five years have we ever set in my office ... and said, 'Oh gee, we haven't won this thing in 100 years.' It's tough enough to get through the yearly grind. I knew in '03 how special it would be if we had finished it off. I really don't dwell on the past, I really don't."
Hendry said he feels for the team's long-suffering fans.
"You'd like to do it one time for them at least," he said.
Piniella said the Cubs will probably settle on a closer about three-quarters of the way through spring training. Bob Howry, Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood are the top candidates and there is an outside chance Dempster could move back. The only other real question marks: Who will play center field with Felix Pie and Sam Fuld in the running? Also, how the back of the rotation will round out with the arrival of Lieber and the switch of Dempster.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press