By the second inning of the Phillies' first night game last week, the concession stands - as opposed to the luxury boxes - at Citizens Bank Park were, as they say in the restaurant trade, "in the weeds."

It was 7:30, and onions had run out at condiment kiosks. In Section 124, the wait was already close to 15 minutes for a Hatfield frank - "hot dog" would imply heat, which was only moderately in evidence.

You could speculate right then - though the game was a sellout, though there was palpable excitement (initially) in the stands, though free T-shirts were handed out - that things might not end particularly well.

Mind you, that was before the Phils' bats fell stonily silent. Cole Hamels would pitch his heart out, but nary a Phillie reached second base. The game would go 1-0 to the young Washington Nationals.

It was windy, and heading into the 40s when I got in, procuring an extra ticket from a fellow for less than the asking price, which was $24.

Having sampled the lavish preview spread that the ballpark's exclusive concessionaire, Aramark, had laid out for the media about two weeks before, I thought it would be nice to see how the food service played out in real time.

The preview was in the luxe Diamond Club. The fare was arranged at draped buffet stations - rosy medallions of beef tenderloin, Maryland-ish crab cakes, smoked brisket sandwiches, and, briefly sighted, a tray of hot dogs, pizza, and Tony Luke's roast pork.

The average wait at the preview? About 15 seconds. The weather? Climate-controlled. The staff? Cheery, uniformed.

Which of course is the difference between feeding a couple dozen (nonpaying) media types, and a 44,000-plus sell-out crowd paying $7 for every Bud Light.

Did I mention that it was also Dollar Dog Night? (Limit six to a customer, which most twentysomething patrons chose to interpret as the obligatory minimum.)

So while Greg "The Bull" Luzinski was sequestered, signing autographs in what looked to be an open-air confessional beside his barbecue stand, and Rick's Steaks (making each sandwich to order), soldiered along, the $1 Hatfield frank stands were mobbed.

Workers who make an average of about $70 for a seven-hour shift feverishly dumped boxes of dogs on the grill tops, quickly stuffed them in buns, and wrapped them in steamy death shrouds of foil.

The result - big, gummy roll, barely warm lunch-meat-like dog - wasn't too pretty.

(Just days before, the Nationals had played their season opener at their own brand-new ballpark, Nationals Park. Philadelphia-based Aramark, which had served the old RFK stadium, "with its long concession lines for tepid sausage sandwiches," as one Washington Post account put it, wasn't managing the food this time around; the contract went to Centerplate, a Connecticut-based caterer. One of the hits there: the onion, mustard and chili-slathered half-smokes - a spicy hot dog akin to kielbasa - grilled hot and charred by its local licensee, Ben's Chili Bowl.)

It wasn't pretty what happened as the Citizens Bank Park game came to a close, either.

Foil-wrapped dogs, drinks and plastic bottles were hurled from the stands by the Bud-lit crowd, nearly clobbering reliever Ryan Madson.

It wasn't the ending presaged by the Diamond Club preview. But the fantasy was swell, I admit, while it lasted.

Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols

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