By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Jul 08, 2008 at 5:23 AM Photography: Allen Fredrickson

There were a lot of smiles Monday at Miller Park.

Employees milling about the ballpark, taking care of the normal operations of a game-day morning, couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. Fans -- more than 35,000 of them on hand for a Monday night game against a fourth-place team -- were giddy as they poured into the stadium.

On the field, the players themselves had an extra zip in their step as they prepared for last night's game.

That's to be expected, though, when a team trying to earn its first post-season berth in more than two decades pulls off a coup that changes the balance of power in the National League Central, as the Brewers did by working a trade for C.C. Sabathia, the defending American League Cy Young Award winner.

In front of a media contingent that, in size, rivaled that of the annual opening day deluge of obscure-market reporters, general manager Doug Melvin, principal owner Mark Attanasio and vice president of business operations Rick Schlesinger officially announced the trade and, later in the day, introduced Sabathia.

"We're going for it," Melvin said, regarding the playoffs.

Those words are foreign to Brewers fans, who have been "waiting 'til next year" since 1982. But still, with Sabathia teaming up with Ben Sheets at the top of the rotation and pitching in front of one of baseball's most-potent offenses, all signs are pointing to 2008 being "the year."

The biggest smile of the day belonged to Sabathia, himself.

"If anybody's ever seen me pitch, I'm out there laughing and having fun," Sabathia said. "That's just me, and that's something that I didn't do last year. When we get to the playoffs, I'll definitely be doing that."

Even Ned Yost, the often gristy Brewers manager, wasn't wearing his familiar poker face.

It's nearly impossible to get Yost to discuss anything other than the game and moment at hand. But the wave of excitement that swept over Miller Park reached even to him as he admitted taking pleasure at lining up his rotation for the second half.

"I was writing in C.C., then writing in Sheets. Then coming to the Cubs, and writing in C.C. and writing in Sheets. It was fun."

Sabathia came at a cost. Not only did the Brewers part with one of their best prospects in Matt LaPorta, they also will be on the hook for roughly half of Sabathia's $11 million salary. The move pushes the Brewers' payroll to nearly $90 million this season, nearly three times what the team spent on players during Attanasio's first season.

Though the owner has infused financial life into the franchise which hemorrhaged money during the pre-revenue sharing days of the Selig regime, $90 million is still a fairly significant figure for a team that plays in Major League Baseball's smallest media market.

"We'll probably generate some measure of a loss this season," Attanasio said.

It's a loss Attanasio, an investment banker by trade, is willing -- and feels somewhat obligated -- to take in order to produce a championship.

Even though just one team during his time as owner finished with a winning record, attendance has been steadily growing each year. The team is on pace to draw nearly three million fans in 2008. Those numbers made the move possible.

"It's a huge boost to the fans who have had a long drought here," Melvin said. "Maybe they thought this kind of thing couldn't happen. We felt we needed to go for it."

Optimism has been building for the last several years as Attanasio took ownership of the team and the organization's farm system began to produce bona fide major league talent. The signing of Jeff Suppan gave long-suffering fans hope that better financial days were on the horizon and getting Ryan Braun to sign a long-term deal reinforced that belief.

That optimism wasn't lost on Sabathia, who chose to join the team in time to make his debut today, instead of waiting until Thursday.

"I was excited," Sabathia said. "I wanted to be here to meet my new teammates and get settled. And this way, I get two starts in before the all-star break."